South Xtra: Area powers battle in toughest section
Upper St. Clair coach Denis Kirstein compared playing hockey in the PIHL's Class AAA Section 1 to playing football in the SEC.
That might actually be unfair to Section 1, because even the SEC conference schedule has a few breathers.
Upper St. Clair, Peters Township, Bethel Park and Canon-McMillan aren't afforded such a luxury when playing within their division.
"It's like a heavyweight title fight every time we play one another," Bethel Park coach Jim McVay said. "Anyone can knock anyone else out."
Historically, the teams have been great. Bethel Park has seven Class AAA Penguins Cup titles, while USC has five. Peters Township is the last PIHL team in any classification to win four Penguins Cup titles in a row, when it dominated Class AA from 2002-05.
Recently, the dominance has been similar for the Section 1 teams. Each of the past two Penguins Cup Class AAA championships has pitted two teams from the section. Last season, Bethel Park beat Peters Township, 2-1. In 2011, Upper St. Clair went to overtime to beat Canon-McMillan. The Big Macs won the 2010 title.
This season, all four of the teams look to have a chance to make it four consecutive titles for Section 1 teams.
Peters Township started the season just 4-4, but has won eight games in a row after defeating Bethel Park, 6-3, Tuesday.
"Peters is kind of doing what we did last year," said McVay, referring to how the Black Hawks won 15 games in a row to take the Penguins Cup after starting 3-7-1. "They are playing really well."
Bethel Park (11-5) started out 0-2 this season, but had won 11 of 13 games before losing to Peters. Canon-McMillan (9-5-3) has been a top-five team all season and is right behind the Indians and Black Hawks in the standings.
Upper St. Clair (9-5-2) may be last in the section, but is tied for sixth in all of Class AAA in points and has been ranked in the top five at different times this season.
"There are no off nights in this league," Kirstein said. "You can't overlook anyone."
There is a debate to whether playing multiple games against tough competition is better in the long run.
Kirstein said playing games against Section 1 foes, as well as matchups against North Allegheny and Seneca Valley, are good preparation for the playoffs because the games are close and have a playoff feel.
Peters Township's Rick Tingle said he doesn't think it matters much, although he does say playing a rival can take a toll on the players emotionally.
"I think it can be a little more draining," Tingle said. "Last year, we beat Canon-McMillan [in the Penguins Cup semifinals] and we were emotionally drained. Then we had to come back the next day and play Bethel Park.
"But overall, I'm not sure if playing [our schedule] is any better or worse."
In the end, it really just comes down to the final results.
"I think if you win, it helps you and if you lose, it hurts you," McVay joked. "A lot of it just comes down to being healthy and peaking at the right time."
History shows that the smart money is on one of the Section 1 teams accomplishing that.
First Published February 7, 2013 12:00 am