PIHL Hockey Championships: Three district champs hunt state crowns

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Class AAA

After three years of coming up one win short, Peters Township players got to hoist the Penguins Cup trophy Monday night.

"We were heartbroken three times in a row and we finally get to enjoy it for once," Peters Township goaltender Brian Baker said. "This great feeling you get to share this with the group of guys we have, it's indescribable."

But just five days after the Indians' 4-2 victory against Bethel Park in the Penguins Cup championship, Peters Township (19-4) will retake the ice Saturday in hopes of winning another title.

The Indians will take on perennial powerhouse LaSalle College High School at 5 p.m. Saturday in the Class AAA state championship at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park.

"We have to realize it's reality and we have another game Saturday," Baker said. "We'll just battle back, go back to practice and get to work again."

While Baker and his teammates will be playing in their first state title game, the Explorers have been to six of the past seven, including the last three in a row, winning in 2012 against Bethel Park and losing to Upper St. Clair (2011) and North Allegheny (2013).

La Salle wasn't the favorite to win the Flyers Cup this season, but the third-seeded Explorers beat both No. 2 Holy Ghost Prep and No. 1 St. Joseph's Prep to take the title.

Peters Township coach Rick Tingle said Monday that he didn't know much about the Explorers.

"It's hard to prepare for those games because you have no idea," Tingle said. "But we'll be ready to go by Saturday for sure."

The Explorers are led by Andrew Romano, who finished in the top five in scoring in the ICSHL this season and has 11 points in three postseason games.

But Romano and his teammates may find it tough to beat Baker, who has stopped 60 of 64 shots in three wins this postseason.

On the other end, the Explorers will have their hands full with Jonathan Dagnal, who has scored hat tricks in back-to-back games.

The Indians will be trying for their fourth state championship, and first since 2005. La Salle has four state championships.

Class AA

The Class AA state championship game Saturday will match one of the state's best all-time programs with a newcomer to the game.

Bishop Canevin (23-2) will be trying for its fifth state championship when it takes on Central Bucks South Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Pegula Ice Arena. The Titans will be making their first state title game appearance.

"I don't know anything about them," Zielmanski said Monday after the Penguins Cup title game. "I really don't."

Central Bucks South outscored its Flyers Cup opponents, 23-9, in four games, including a 5-2 victory against Souderton in the championship. The Titans used a balanced attack, with eight different players scoring at least two goals and Leo Flick leading the team with eight points.

But the Titans' offense will have it tough against senior Nikita Meskin, the PIHL Class AA leader in wins, shutouts, save percentage and goals-against average. He notched his fifth shutout of the season Monday in a 1-0 victory against Erie Cathedral Prep.

"When we sized up our competition throughout the playoffs, we thought we had a distinct advantage in goal," Zielmanski said. "We have an experienced goalie, a big goalie who's athletic and plays well."

Offensively, the Crusaders are led by PIHL Class AA point leader Randy Unger, who has 84 points this season, including nine in three postseason games. Unger missed Bishop Canevin's state championship victory in 2011 because of a shoulder injury.

But seniors Garrett Godlewski and captain Brennen Adams did help the Crusaders win their last state championship, a 4-1 victory against Council Rock South.

"Some of my seniors have played in this game as freshmen, so hopefully they're able to draw on that experience, handle the nerves better and have a bit better effort Saturday," Zielmanski said.

Class A

Quaker Valley won its third consecutive Penguins Cup title Monday with an 8-2 thrashing of Thomas Jefferson.

But the victory was just a step, not the goal, for this year's Quakers.

"Last year, we accomplished this and we didn't win states and didn't feel complete at the end of the year," Quaker Valley senior Jimmy Perkins said. "That's why this Saturday's game is huge. We're ready for a little bit of revenge here."

Last year, Quaker Valley saw its 46-game unbeaten streak come to an end in the state championship against West Chester East. But the Quakers will get another crack at winning the program's third state championship against a familiar foe.

Quaker Valley (24-1) will play West Chester Bayard Rustin at noon Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena. The Quakers beat Rustin, 4-1, in the 2012 championship game.

"They only have two players from that [2012] team," Quaker Valley coach Kevin Quinn said. "It's still the same thing, though. Every year we've been to states, it's a tough challenge."

The two players Rustin brings back from 2012 are J.R. Barone and Michael Grande. Barone was the Flyers Cup Class A MVP after scoring three goals and adding nine assists in four postseason games. Grande had five goals and four assists in the tournament.

Grande's younger brother, sophomore goaltender Jason Grande, went 4-0 and stopped 79 of 84 shots during the Flyers Cup playoffs.

Quaker Valley, meanwhile, has eight players who played against Rustin in 2012, including two, defenseman Ryan Lottes and forward Otto Schaefer, who scored goals in the title game.

But the two players Rustin will have to watch the closest are sophomore Connor Quinn, who is coming off a five-goal game in the Penguins Cup final, and Perkins, who led the PIHL with 48 goals this season and wants to end his career with another state title.

"We're definitely going to be really focused this year," Perkins said. "Having been there twice, we definitely have the experience and we know what it's like. We know we're getting a strong team in Bayard Rustin and we just want to bring our all and capitalize on our chances and hopefully we'll come home with a championship."


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