Hockey Notebook: As season progresses, Bethel Park does, too
Bethel Park's Zack Volzer and Upper St. Clair's Michael Sweeney battle for possession of the puck during the second period of the Black Hawks' 3-2 victory in a PIHL Class AAA game last week.
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At a recent practice for the Bethel Park High School hockey team, coach Jim McVay noticed the players weren't executing a drill precisely to his liking.
"I told them, 'We need to work on a few things,'" McVay recalled. "'If you don't want to do them, we're just going to sprint.'
"And then they started doing it."
That type of discipline shines through for the Black Hawks, who are known for a defensive style as stringent as it is methodical.
It shows in the results. Once again, it is late February, and like almost every season, Bethel Park is among the PIHL Class AAA leaders in goals against.
The Black Hawks were allowing an average of two goals per game in their 19 contests before Thursday's game against McDowell. Only Peters Township had allowed fewer among Class AAA teams.
During McVay's 14 seasons as head coach, Bethel Park has finished no lower than fifth in Class AAA in goals-against average. Five times the Black Hawks have led the classification in the category, and this would be the third time they ranked second.
"You have to make players accountable," McVay said. "I think the key word is accountability.
"If I want them to do something and they're not doing it, you have to pay the consequences -- whether it's the kids run or do this or do that."
Another trend for Bethel Park, particularly in recent seasons, is improved play as the season goes on. This season, the Black Hawks began 3-7-1 but carried an eight-game winning streak into Thursday's game.
They beat Canon-McMillan, North Allegheny and Peters Township -- three of the top four teams in the league -- in that stretch and allowed only 13 goals in those eight games.
"I think the longer we play [during a season], the more we buy into [the defensive system]," McVay said. "It's when all the kids buy into team defense that we're a tough team to beat."
Bethel Park is certainly that now, as the poor start in which even a playoff berth seemed in question now seems like a distant memory.
The Black Hawks have established themselves as legitimate contenders for the Penguins Cup -- symbolic of the PIHL championship. The postseason begins in two weeks.
"I couldn't be happier with how we're playing now," McVay said. "We've played really well the last six weeks, but the next three, four, five weeks is what counts the most."
Although two weeks still remain in the Class AAA, AA and A regular seasons, the Open Class ends its campaign with one game tonight. The postseason begins Sunday with Nailers Cup (Southwest Conference) and Chiefs Cup (Northeast Conference) quarterfinal games.
Most teams played their final regular-season game Thursday night.
Heading into that action, Quigley Catholic (15-3-1), Morgantown, W.Va. (12-6-1) and John Marshall, W.Va. (12-6-2) were on track to be the top three seeds in the Nailers Cup tournament, while Ford City (16-2-1), Baldwin (15-3-1) and Greensburg Salem (15-4) were the favorites in the Chiefs Cup.
The Chiefs and Nailers Cup title games will be played March 6, with the overall Open Class championship game two days later.
The regular season for the three other classifications ends March 9. The first round of the Penguins Cup playoffs for Class AAA, AA and A begins March 12. The quarterfinals are later that week.
Penguins Cup semifinal games will be played March 19-21 at the Island Sports Center, and all three Penguins Cup championship games are scheduled for March 24 at Consol Energy Center.
In a scheduling quirk, the Pennsylvania Cup state title games will be played the following day at the Island Sports Center.
• West Allegheny at Erie Cathedral Prep, 8 p.m. Monday, Mercyhurst College.
The Indians (16-2 before Thursday vs. Montour) likely will take a 15-game winning streak with them on the long drive up I-79 to face the Ramblers (12-5-1 before playing Plum tonight).
• Mt. Lebanon at Peters Township, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Ice-o-Plex at SouthPointe.
The No. 4 seed -- and, more importantly, a first-round bye -- likely will go to the winner of this game between the Blue Devils (14-4-1 before Thursday's game) and Indians (12-3-3 before Thursday's game).
First Published February 24, 2012 12:00 am