Heading into this week, there was some hope that the PIHL Class 1A West Division would somehow sort itself out.
After Monday night’s games, there was even more confusion than before.
Thomas Jefferson (11-6-0) came into the week in first place and had an opportunity to distance itself from the pack a bit with a win against a South Park (6-9-1) squad that had its postseason hopes on life-support as it was chasing Beaver for the seventh and final slot. Instead, Beaver scored three third-period goals for a 5-2 upset that kept its season alive and threw the Jaguars for a loop.
“You’ve got to give South Park credit because they played their hearts out,” Thomas Jefferson assistant coach Phil Ripepi said. “We didn’t play our game because we play a very fast-paced skating game and we didn’t have that going.”
If that loss was surprising, Chartiers Valley (10-5-2) pulled into a first-place tie with Thomas Jefferson after a 7-7 tie with a Wheeling Catholic (3-12-2) team that had been shut out its past two games, lost 10 in a row and hadn’t picked up a point since Dec. 1. Though the Colts and Jaguars held a tenuous one-point grasp on first place over Montour with one game remaining, Baldwin (10-4-1) was also just one point back with three games left and South Fayette (10-5-1) trailed by a point as well with two games on its slate.
Having five teams within a point of first place entering the final two weeks of the season is almost unheard of. And yet, there they were.
“It’s a really competitive division,” Ripepi said. “In all the years we’ve been coaching here, it’s probably the tightest that we’ve seen the division of those first six or seven teams. Anybody can beat anybody.”
Upper St. Clair won’t make the PIHL Class 3A Penguins Cup playoffs this season, but what the Panthers did last week in their game against Cathedral Prep makes them true champions.
Players from Upper St. Clair designed shirts supporting Ramblers junior Ian Malesiewski, who sustained a traumatic spinal injury during an offseason wresting tournament June 3 in Ohio and has been confined to a wheelchair. The Panthers also donated a check for $2,000 to The Ian Fund, which was set up to help the family and sponsored by the school.
Malesiewski only returned to classes Nov. 7 as Cathedral Prep set up a special classroom for him. Bill Goodman, whose son Isaac is a defenseman for Upper St. Clair, guided the project.
With only two games remaining in the regular season, Plum (14-2-1) has pretty much locked up the Class 2A East Division and the top seed entering the Penguins Cup playoffs,
Though the Mustangs can finish no worse than in a tie for first with Hampton (11-3-3), they still have a little bit of work to do before they can claim the outright title. Their job will begin Monday night when they play the Talbots in the second of their two meetings.
Plum won the first time the teams met, 6-1, and, in reality, neither can really alter their station with a win or a loss. The Mustangs are locked into first place because of their number of wins and Hampton, after beating Shaler on Monday, locked up second place.
What will be interesting to see, though, is what this game does for the teams as they prepare to enter the tournament.
(Records through Feb. 13)
1. Central Catholic 15-3-0
2. North Allegheny 12-4-2
3. Cathedral Prep 10-6-3
4. Peters Township 9-7-2
5. Seneca Valley 9-8-1
1. Plum 14-2-1
2. Moon 14-2-1
3. Mt. Lebanon 11-4-2
4. Hampton 11-3-3
5. Quaker Valley 11-6-0
1. Franklin Regional 16-0-0
2. Bishop McCort 10-5-0
3. Indiana 12-3-0
5. Baldwin 10-4-1
4. Kiski Area 11-6-1