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"Mr. High School Sports" LIVE from the Penguins Cup Finals

In basketball we had a changing of the guard--several, in fact--as each of the defending WPIAL boys' and girls' champions went down at the Palumbo Center earlier this month.  The (chilly) winds of change have continued blowing through western Pennsylvania's other winter sport, as the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League will crown at least one new champion in the 2011 Penguins Cup Finals, which face off after Sunday's Penguins-Rangers game at Consol Energy Center.

That new champion will come from Class AA, now that three-time Penguins Cup and state champion Latrobe has seen its run come to an end.  The team that played giant-killer, Bishop Canevin, will seek its first Penguins Cup as a PIHL member when they take on top seed and longtime powerhouse Peters Township in the Class AA Final at around 7 p.m.

A full evening of scholastic hockey will begin with the Class A Final at 5 p.m., which pits two-time champion Mars against the upstart Hampton Talbots, who are looking for their first PIHL gold medals after stunning No. 1 seed Kittanning in the Penguins Cup Semifinals.

The nightcap is an all-South Hills Final in Class AAA at around 9 p.m. between defending champion Canon-McMillan and Section 1 rival Upper St. Clair, which also knocked off a top seed, Fox Chapel, in the semifinals, and is looking to end a long title drought.

Be sure to browse through the Pittsburgh Youth Hockey Network for more on this year's Penguins Cup Playoffs.  In the meantime, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports at shortly before the start of the Class A game, as he will be blogging live from Consol Energy Center throughout the event!

4:55 PM - Mr. High School Sports, after talking to captains and coaches from Mars and Hampton, has made the long walk up to press row at Consol Energy Center.  The butterflies are definitely on Hampton's side, but right now the Talbots have just as much confidence in their defense as Mars does.  The Talbots talked about what a long way their team has come since preseason workouts...and they're absolutely right.  Mars wants to get the puck deep and outwork Hampton down low.  The Planets and Talbots have taken the ice for their warm-up skate and team photos.  Class A game facing off soon.  Time to get excited!

Mars, making its fourth straight Finals appearance, is going for its third consecutive Penguins Cup.  The only other time in PIHL history a Class A team won three championships in a row was Serra Catholic 2000-02.  Hampton is going for its first-ever Penguins Cup in its first-ever Finals appearance as a PIHL member.

5:10 PM - After the National Anthem, a number of western Pennsylvania high school hockey alumnae offered the ceremonial puck drop.  At least one of them, per my understanding, was playing high school hockey as early as 1971, the first year for organized scholastic hockey in this region.

5:20 PM - Colt Berenburg of Mars goes off for tripping with just over 10 minutes left in the first period.  Hampton has the only shot of the game thus far, and their defense, which has been a major strength of the sixth-seeded Talbots in the playoffs, is looking good so far.

5:23 PM - 8:21 left, first period...Mars finally gets a shot on goal, then goaltender Sam Wilson breaks up a big opportunity on the doorstep for Robert Foley and freezes for a faceoff.

5:25 PM - Top regular season scorer Luke Leya goes off for cross-checking with over seven minutes left in the 1st, Hampton's first penalty of the night.

5:28 PM - Mars moved the puck well on the PP, but Hampton continues to play good positional hockey on the back end.  4:30 left, 1st period, still no score.  Shots 5-2 in favor of Mars.

5:30 PM - Mars captain Kevin Leslie goes off for interfering with Joey Vita. Under 4:00 left, 1st period.

5:33 PM - Still no scoring, but the penalties are mounting.  With 1:43 left in the 1st, Zach Kosick is sent off for high sticking.

5:34 PM - GOAL! Elliot Tisdale gets just enough on his one-timer from the bottom of the left circle to put it through the body of Wilson and across the line.  Power play goal...Mars up 1-0, 42.8 seconds left in the 1st.

5:36 PM - End of 1st period...Mars leads Hampton 1-0.  Russell Miller of the Planets took a penalty before the frame ended, so Hampton begins the 2nd with a PP.  Talbots, except for the lone goal, have done a good job taking away space from Mars, but they need to start generating some offensive pressure of their own.

Tisdale, by the way, was a PIHL All-Star, and the Class A scoring champ during the regular season with 33 goals and 68 points. The first period goal was Tisdale's second of the Penguins Cup Playoffs.

5:40 PM - 12:35 left, 2nd period...Hampton had a couple good cracks, but still hasn't been able to get one by All-Star goalie Tyler Stepke, the top statistical starting goaltender in Class A for the past couple seasons.  1-0 Mars, shots tied at seven.

5:45 PM - GOAL! A one-timer down low, in transition, is denied by Wilson, but Austin Heakins of the Planets smashes the rebound into an open net.  10:30 left 2nd period...Nick Blaney, Joe Bender on the assists...2-0 Mars. That was the second Penguins Cup Playoff goal for the sophomore forward.

5:47 PM - Mars is starting to generate good chances off turnovers.  Joe Bender just barely missed the net on a breakaway...8:15 left, 2nd period.

5:52 PM - Wilson continues to make nice saves to keep the Talbots in the hunt...still 2-0 Mars, 4:12 left, 2nd period.  Shots 12-7 in favor of the Planets.

5:55 PM - GOAL! Hampton misplays a puck in its own zone, and Nick Blaney takes it, beating Wilson on a backhander in the slot to give Mars a 3-0 lead, 2:44 left, 2nd period.  Give Heakins and Bender the assists. It's Blaney's second goal of these playoffs.

6:00 PM - End of 2nd period...time to cut the ice.  Mars leads Hampton 3-0 and is very much in control, outshooting the Talbots 17-8, including 10-5 in that period.  Planets will begin the 3rd on a PP with Luke Leya in the box after getting involved with Robert Foley after a whistle behind the Hampton net.  Wilson is playing an admirable game, but Mars is playing exactly the game they want to; they've jumped out to a lead, and they're protecting the lead with steady pressure in the attacking zone.  Hampton really needs to get its forecheck going and probably shut Mars out in the 3rd period, otherwise its Cinderella run may end.

6:17 PM - The third period of the Class A game is underway, and it begins with a brilliant glove save by Sam Wilson.  Once again, he's been the Talbots' best player thus far...

6:20 PM - GOAL! The Mars defense, which gave up a league-low 23 goals in 21 regular season games, gets into the act.  Off the faceoff Hunter Sacchini beats Wilson with a slap shot from the left point; Heakins gets the lone assist.  Less than a minute later, Heakins gets his second of the game right on Wilson's doorstep to give Mars a commanding 5-0 lead.  Blake Friday gets the assist. Serra Catholic and Kittanning may have fallen by the hand of Hampton, but the Planets continue to serve notice they won't fall into the trap.  The No. 2 seed has another power play with a 26-9 edge in shots...and Tyler Stepke just made a nice save on a Hampton breakaway.  7:45 left, 3rd period.

6:32 PM - The Talbots go on a power play as Miller goes off for interference...they still have a chance to get the goose egg off the board with 3:53 left in the third.  Shots 31-11 in favor of the Planets.

6:35 PM - Glove save by Stepke to force a faceoff with 1:58 left.  It's all a formality at this point...

6:38 PM - It's official...we have a three-peat!  Congratulations to Stephen Meyers and the Mars Planets on their third straight Penguins Cup title in Class A!  Final score: Mars 5, Hampton 0.  Final shots: 34-18 Planets.  Congratulations also to Brad Lloyd (who was suspended for this game due to a preponderance of penalty minutes by his team in the Semifinals), interim coach Anthony Scalieri, and the Talbots on a remarkable run, which ends with a Section 1 title and a 17-7 overall record.  Mars enters the Pennsylvania Cup Final next Saturday with an overall record of 23-1 in PIHL play.

One of my favorite Penguins Cup Final traditions...the awarding of the trophy by Lenny Santora, the "Keeper of the Cup."  He wears a tuxedo every year, just like the keepers of the Stanley Cup, as he presents the trophy.  Very cool.

7:10 PM - Just got back from talking with Nick Blaney, Tyler Stepke, and assistant coach Mike Manganello.  Generally all three credit team defense, and an adherence to their team's system, as well as team chemistry, for today's win.  Blaney said the team thrives upon getting pucks deep and breaking down their opponents with their forecheck.  Despite now being in rare company as a three-time champion, the team is still humble in victory and very focused on states.  As kids took turns sipping beverages from the bowl of the Penguins Cup, assistant coach Steve Neese loudly declared, "We ain't done yet."

7:17 PM - House announcer Bob Sebastian introducing this year's Class AA Penguins Cup Finalists, Peters Township and Bishop Canevin, as we get ready to drop the puck on the Class AA contest.  I'm going out on a not-so-long limb and saying the Canevin student section on the far side of Consol Energy Center, which looks like a bunch of "Let's Make a Deal" contestants, is one of the more flashy-dressed student sections I've seen in this year's playoffs (lots of pastels).  Let's see if the loudness of their wardrobes match the loudness of their cheers... The Indians, who won four straight Penguins Cups 2002-05, are going for their fifth trophy in program history, and are appearing in the Finals for the first time since '05.  The Crusaders are going for their sixth Penguins Cup all-time, their first as a member of the PIHL, and first since 1993.

7:26 PM - After a ceremonial puck drop by more western PA high school hockey alumnae, we are underway in the Class AA Penguins Cup Final.  Woody Shell in goal for Peters, a team with great depth at that position, and Zack Daley in goal for Canevin.

7:27 PM - The Crusaders are able to get their forecheck going right off the bat, just as they did against three-time state champ Latrobe in the Penguins Cup Semifinals, and Shell has to make a couple tough saves near the crease.  13 minutes left, first period.

7:30 PM - Daley denies Ben Dachille from close range, his first save of the game.  Faceoff in Crusaders territory, 11:34 to go in the 1st, still scoreless.  A couple of big hits in the neutral zone have gotten the Peters Township student section into the game.

7:33 PM - Freshman forward Randy Unger, the hero of the semifinals, goes off for interference with about 10:30 to go in the first.  You don't want to tempt fate with the Indians' power play, which had the second-most PPG's of any unit in Class AA during the regular season.  But moments later, the man-advantage is erased when Alex Dagnal is called for cross-checking.  Still scoreless, 8:30 to go, 1st period.

7:36 PM - GOAL!  Matt Walsh can't stick-handle his way around the Peters Township defense, but Frank Vance does, beating Shell with a wrist shot from the left circle to give the Crusaders a 1-0 lead...7:49 left, 1st period.  I feel like I'm in the United Center, as "Chelsea Dagger" blares over the loudspeakers... Walsh, who led Canevin with 22 goals and 51 points (5th in Class AA) during the regular season, gets the lone assist.  For Vance, it's his second goal of the Penguins Cup Playoffs.  Walsh now has five points in these playoffs.

7:40 PM - Somehow, some way, Woody Shell survived a mad scramble right in front...shots 6-2 at one point, now 9-3 in favor of the Crusaders, as Daley stopped assistant captain Mike Glicksman on an end-to-end rush.  But the ice has definitely tilted in Bishop Canevin's favor a bit.  1-0 Crusaders, 4:20 left, 1st period.

7:42 PM - A visibly disappointed Peter Karney lines up in the left faceoff circle after finding out an apparent Canevin goal was disallowed because the net was dislodged before the puck was fired in.  The number two seed is still ahead just 1-0 in this one-versus-two matchup...

7:48 PM - GOAL! Defenseman Marc Slomiany cranks one from the left point that deflects off the blade of freshman Garrett Godlewski for a 2-0 Crusaders advantage...3:08 left, 1st period.  It's the second goal of the playoffs for the JV call-up.

7:53 PM - End of 1st period, 2-0 Bishop Canevin.  Shots 15-6 in favor of the Crusaders, who not only kept the top-scoring offense in Class AA from generating a lot of chances, but did a good job managing the puck in the offensive zone.

8:00 PM - Some technical difficulties with our web hosting software...we apologize for that.  Anyway, not much going on; the teams have traded minor penalties, and though the Indians are finally getting some pucks to the net, Daley continues to stand tall.  Shots 18-10 in favor of the Crusaders, who still lead 2-0 midway through the second.

8:03 PM - GOAL!  Two goals, in fact!  Peters gets on the board with 8:13 left in the period as Davan Groom follows a shot by Taylor Cox and backhands in between Daley's legs from close range.  Just 47 seconds later, Richard McNulty finds Walsh in the right circle, who, in turn, sets up Unger for a well-executed one-timer.  Shell couldn't do much about that time.  The tic-tac-toe play gives Unger his second of the playoffs right after Groom got his second.  3-1 Crusaders.

8:10 PM - The Indians couldn't take advantage of a charging minor against Matt Bilski.  4:05 left, 2nd period...shot margin has narrowed to 19-15 Canevin, but the Crusaders are still up 3-1.

8:15 PM - Tough loss for the Indians; Taylor Cox, their top goal scorer in the regular season and playoffs, goes off for five minutes (boarding) for a vicious hit from behind on Unger in Canevin territory.  Unger slams his stick against the glass in frustration, but perhaps the real frustration comes seconds later, when Bishop Canevin's Kendall King is whistled for interference.  We'll play 4-on-4 to begin the 3rd, then Canevin gets an unconventional 2:30 thereabouts of power play time.

8:17 PM - Time to cut the ice...after two periods, the Class AA Final stands at Bishop Canevin 3, Peters Township 1.  Shots favor the Crusaders 21-16.  The Indians had their chances in the second period, but just couldn't finish enough.  Give a ton of credit to Daley, but above all, to Canevin's defense.  They've really gelled as a team in the 2011 playoffs.  So far, against the number one and (tied for) number two offenses from the regular season, two teams that combined for 253 goals prior to the Penguins Cup Playoffs, they've allowed just one puck to get by Daley.  Peters needs to go back to its roots--defensive responsibility--and keep getting pucks on Daley.  Canevin needs to continue supporting Daley, and continue to move the puck as well in the offensive zone as they have all night.

By the way, before I forget, assists on Groom's goal, the lone Peters Township tally, went to Cox and Cole Snyder.  On we go to third period action!

8:38 PM - Beautiful razzle-dazzle by Dagnal and Snyder on a 2-on-1 in transition, but Daley stays calm and makes a toe save...11 minutes left in regulation, still 3-1 Bishop Canevin.

8:40 PM - Boy, is Unger taking a pounding...he's down and had to be helped to his feet by medics after a brutal hit by Peters defenseman and team captain Mike Amelio.  Fortunately he's okay, but will probably not be back.  No penalties issued...and oddly enough, Canevin doesn't seem to be complaining too much either.  The consensus seems to be, a clean hit with an unfortunate side effect.

8:42 PM - GOAL! Ben Zalewski goes off for tripping and Bishop Canevin's Mike Mansmann makes him pay, putting a second-chance puck past Shell for a PPG and a 4-1 Crusader advantage...9:52 left, 3rd period.

It's Mansmann's first goal of the Penguins Cup Playoffs.  A penalty to Kendall King for interference off the ensuing draw couldn't have come at a better time for the Indians, who need offense in a hurry with 7:30 left in the game.

Once again, Peters scored 140 goals during the regular season (just one tonight)...

8:50 PM - Frustration mounts, as the Indians can't score on the PP, and the Crusaders get one right back, as Dachille goes off for hooking with 5:30 to go in regulation.

8:51 PM - GOAL! Another PP tally for Bishop Canevin, as Walsh's backhander around a defender beats Shell with 4:51 left in regulation.  It's Walsh's team-best fifth goal of the Penguins Cup Playoffs, with a helper from Peter Karney, and that should just about do it...5-1 Canevin.  Daley is hugged by his excited teammates at the other end, who are beginning to taste the gold, while Shell is consoled by his mates.

8:55 PM - Timeout with 1:30 left.  Talk about appears that all three No. 1 seeds--Peters and Kittanning were particularly strong ones--will fall short of Penguins Cup gold.

9:00 PM - The drought is over!  Congratulations to head coach Kevin Zielmanski and the Bishop Canevin Crusaders, who capture their first Class AA Penguins Cup title as a PIHL member and first in 18 years!  The Crusaders upend the Indians, 5-2.  (Ben Zalewski added a late goal, his second of the Penguins Cup Playoffs, for the Indians.) Final shots:  24-22 in favor of Canevin.  For years the Crusaders were an also-ran, despite usually fielding a very talented squad...not anymore.  Defensively Canevin outworked Peters Township, constantly collapsing in front of Daley, who wasn't quite as tested as he was by Latrobe.  On the other end, they were the more opportunistic of the two teams.  They deserved this win.  The Crusaders go to West Chester to battle for the Pennsylvania Cup next weekend with an overall mark of 19-4.  Congratulations to veteran coach Rick Tingle and his Indians on a great campaign as well, which ends for Peters Township at 19-3-1 overall.

More to come...

(One quick footnote/shameless plug: if you want to learn more about the Peters Township program--or about the other two No. 1 seeds, Fox Chapel and Kittanning--be sure to check out the "Road to the Penguins Cup" documentary on the PIHL Network at  Props to the folks at Rubino Productions for their good work.)

9:30 PM - Yes, I know they just won the Penguins Cup.  Having said that, the Bishop Canevin locker room after that game was one of the loudest and most joyous ones I've ever been in...a noticeable difference from the more straight-laced Mars Planets.  Those kids seem to have a real sense of history, knowing how hard this program has worked to earn a title.

Even those kids seemed a bit overcome by what they'd just accomplished.  Matt Walsh and Kendall King talked a lot about team defense.  Kevin Zielmanski spoke of the incredible effort his team has put into this year's playoffs.  He also talked about how he's taught his kids the importance of going to work in the blue paint; second-chance opportunities were a big key to the Crusaders' victory.

Sobering news from Coach Zielmanski about Randy Unger...the early rumblings are that Randy might have a broken shoulder, and would obviously miss the Pennsylvania Cup as a result.  That has not yet been corroborated.

9:40 PM - Time for the ceremonial puck drop for the nightcap, an all-South Hills affair between No. 2 seed and defending champ Canon-McMillan and No. 4 seed Upper St. Clair for the Class AAA Penguins Cup title.  Last year the Big Macs won gold for the first time ever as a No. 8 seed; this year they outlasted Bethel Park and USC to win Section 1.  The Panthers, the same team to which former Penguin Ryan Malone once belonged, are looking for their fifth Penguins Cup, their first as a PIHL member, and first since 1990.  Both these teams survived arguably the most brutal section in the PIHL, so regardless of tonight's outcome, both are, in my mind, worthy of respect.

Incidentally, the opening ceremonies featured more ex-high school players from western PA..."Legends of High School Hockey," if you will.  Several of the participants are credited with helping to stage the first organized high school hockey game in western PA history back in March 1971.

9:50 PM - Game underway.  Ryan Palonis in goal for Canon-Mac after backstopping that team to last year's title.  Mike Ambrose, who took over for Michael Stein late in the season, is in goal for USC after an extremely impressive shutout of Fox Chapel in the Penguins Cup Semifinals.

9:54 PM - All-Star forward Justin Selep, who shined with the Panthers when not spending time on his amateur team, jams away at a loose puck under stiff resistance, but Palonis smothers it for a faceoff.  USC has the first three shots of the game, which remains scoreless with 10:54 left in the first period.

10:00 PM - Unlike their semifinal victory over Bethel Park, the Big Macs have not had a ton of room to maneuver out there yet.  In fact, USC's forecheck has them on their heels, despite the fact it's a scoreless game midway through the 1st. Shots 8-0 USC...make that 10-0.

10:02 PM - USC continues to control its gaps, get good looks at the net, and dictate the tempo with their physical play.  Canon-Mac finally gets a shot on goal, then they turn it right back over to Selep, who is stopped by Palonis on an odd-man rush.  Give the Canon-Mac netminder credit for weathering this storm...still 0-0, 4:00 left, 1st period...shots 13-1 USC.

10:06 PM - Canon-McMillan defenseman, assistant captain, and Russian immigrant Alex Baskakov is one of my favorite PIHL players to watch at his position, largely because of his cannon-esque shot, but he's pretty responsible in his own zone and skates confidently.  (He played a big part in the Big Macs' surprise run last year.)  But this time Baskakov is literally up in arms, as he takes a questionable slashing penalty drawn by Luke Stork on a partial breakaway.  Time for USC to go to work on the PP, which has been up and down for them this year.

10:12 PM - End of 1st period, still 0-0.  Without question, the star of the game is Ryan Palonis, given the Panthers' amazing 20-1 edge in shots.  Don't forget, Canon-Mac had one of the top five offenses in Class AAA during the regular season.  By the way, Justin Selep, who can't buy a goal, had Palonis leaning the wrong way, but was denied again shortly before the period ended.

10:15 PM - GOAL! That was just a matter of time; Ryan Haleski cranks one from center point that bounces off the stick of Mike Segerdahl and behind Palonis.  Selep gets the other assist, as USC takes a 1-0 lead with 13:23 left in the 2nd on its 23rd shot.  Still just one for the defending champs...

That was Segerdahl's first goal of the Penguins Cup Playoffs.

10:20 PM - One too many passes on a 2-on-1 for the Big Macs, then a wide-open shot by Stephen Gielarowski is fought off by Palonis.  1-0 USC, 10 minutes till ice cut...shots 26-3 Panthers.

10:24 PM - GOAL! Talk about rope-a-dope! Gielarowski takes a penalty, then PIHL All-Star and Canon-Mac captain Brett Oldaker, fresh off a hat trick in the Semifinals, breezes into the left wing circle and beats Ambrose with a wrister following a faceoff win.  Zach McKown gets the assist, and we're tied 1-1.

Oldaker led the Big Macs during the regular campaign with 20 goals and 54 points (4th in Class AAA); this is his team-leading fifth tally of the playoffs.  No surprise here; Canon-Mac's power play tied Fox Chapel for the most productive unit in Class AAA entering the playoffs.

10:28 PM - Younger brother Blair Oldaker goes off for tripping with 6:47 left in the 2nd...USC on the PP with the game tied 1-1 and a 29-4 edge in shots.

10:30 PM - Not a smart play there by Gielarowski, who takes an interference penalty for drilling Zach McKown into the near boards, away from the play.  We'll skate 4-on-4 for about a minute, then a 55-second PP for the Big Macs.  Could the tide be turning?

10:35 PM - GOAL! Once again, Canon-Mac generates offense from defense; after Palonis turned aside a couple tough shots, a lead pass from Anthony Tonkovich springs Brett Oldaker on a breakaway, and he beats Ambrose cleanly with just over two minutes to go to the ice cut.  2-1 Big Macs, despite trailing 31-6 in shots.  Six Penguins Cup Playoff goals now for the captain!

10:38 PM - The Panthers catch a break...Tonkovich gets called for hooking with 23 seconds left in the 2nd period.  USC begins the 3rd with 1:37 of power play.

End of the 2nd...Canon-McMillan 2, Upper St. Clair 1.  Shots favor the Panthers by a staggering 33-8 margin, but two players have put the Big Macs on their backs.  The first is Ryan Palonis, who has really stood on his head as his mates have struggled to find their legs.  The second is Brett Oldaker.  He's very sure-handed with the puck, and when he gets a good opportunity--like that breakaway--he usually doesn't miss.  I'm willing to bet USC head coach Larry Marks implores his team to put a greater sense of urgency on shadowing him.  In the third period, Canon-McMillan needs to get the puck deep and get their own forecheck going instead of letting Oldaker do the work.  USC just needs to keep doing what it's doing: peppering Palonis with shots and possessing the puck for extended periods in the attacking zone.  The Panthers may not deserve to be down one, but for the number one offense in Class AAA during the regular season, this is still a very winnable game.

11:02 PM - GOAL! It only took 1:39 for USC to get the big break it needed...and All-Star/team scoring leader C.J. Murray made it happen, finally getting that elusive first Penguins Cup Playoff goal on a beautiful coast-to-coast breakaway!  Game tied 2-2.

Murray finished second in Class AAA during the regular season with 30 goals and 59 points.

11:04 PM - To Canon-Mac's credit, they go straight to work on the forecheck off the faceoff and draw a penalty on defenseman Andrew Schmitt.

11:05 PM - GOAL! Baskakov's slap shot from the right circle is denied by Ambrose, but McKown is right there to fire home the rebound for a quick power play strike.  Canon-McMillan re-takes the lead, 3-2, just like that...12:43 left in 3rd.  It's McKown's first goal of the playoffs, and he couldn't have picked a better time for it.

(Murray fires one off the side of the near post shortly's starting to pick up out there!)

11:12 PM - Murray thought he had a clean breakaway--and so did the far half of the building--but the Panthers were offside, says this USA Hockey officiating crew.  Big Macs definitely caught a break there.

11:15 PM - To quote the song by Stompin' Tom Connors, USC swarmed the crease like bumblebees...but Palonis survived, as he has for much of the night.  5:30 to go in regulation; USC leads in shots 38-11, but trails where it matters, 3-2.

11:17 PM - Canon-Mac's forecheck frustrates Haleski into taking a holding call with about 4:30 to go.  Big chance here for the champs to try and salt the game away.

11:20 PM - USC kills it off, but not without a couple miss opportunities by the Big Macs.  Subsequently a bad penalty for too many men is taken, and USC goes on the PP with just under 3:00 to go.

11:21 PM - GOAL! That mental mistake comes back to bite Canon-Mac, as Gielarowski sets up a Justin Selep blast from center point for a power play tally with 1:47 left!  We're tied 3-3 on Selep's third goal of the Penguins Cup Playoffs.

Selep averaged over two points per game in just 15 regular season outings.

11:24 PM - Timeout Canon-McMillan...defensive zone faceoff awaiting them with 58.4 seconds left in 3rd.

11:26 PM - We are headed to "O-O-O-O-O-O-vertime" in the Class AAA Penguins Cup Final!  What a way to end the night!  We'll begin shortly with a 10-minute sudden-death period (next goal wins), and we'll keep going till we have a winner.  If more than two OT's are necessarily, there will be an ice cut after the second, if memory serves.

11:31 PM - PANTHERS WIN!  The drought is over!  The Upper St. Clair Panthers dethrone the Penguins Cup champs with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Canon-McMillan Big Macs!  Shortly after Brett Oldaker was denied on a partial breakaway, Mike Sweeney caught Palonis out of position and beat him with a wrap-around goal 3:10 into the extra period...congratulations to Larry Marks and the Panthers on their fifth Penguins Cup and first PIHL title, not to mention their first league title in over two decades!  For Sweeney, it's his second game-winning goal of the Penguins Cup Playoffs (he had the winning tally in the Semifinals too).  USC enters the Pennsylvania Cup Final with an overall record of 16-6-1.  Congratulations to Yuri Krivokhija and the Big Macs on another great campaign as well, which ends with an overall record of 17-5-1.

A great way to end a great day for high school hockey!

MONDAY - Needed a good night's sleep.  And a long one at that.  Anyway, some final thoughts:

*Talked to Coach Marks, Andy Sweeney, and Justin Selep after the Class AAA game.  I think Coach Marks was as excited as Andy was about that overtime goal.  Coach Marks talked about how Ambrose has matured as a goaltender, noting his game-changing save on Oldaker in OT.  He says the same kind of effort will be needed to win states.  Sweeney likes the chemistry of this team and is thrilled to be a part of program history.  Selep likes the extra attention to detail on defense throughout the playoffs.

*Final shots in the Class AAA game were 43-13 in favor of USC.  Canon-Mac played the ultimate game of rope-a-dope...and it almost worked.  On the rare occasion Canon-Mac was able to get the puck deep and get a cycle going, they were very opportunistic, frustrating the Panthers into taking penalties that led to two power play goals on two well-run power plays.  But to take a too many men penalty in the last two minutes of a one-goal game is the kind of untimely breakdown in communication that can't happen if you're a championship team with championship aspirations (Krivokhaja and his team will probably be playing that one over in their heads for a while).  When you manage the puck and dominate time of possession the way USC did, you usually get what you deserve, and USC got a goal in overtime that resulted from Ryan Palonis being out of position.  Having said that, Palonis was the best player on the ice for either team, even though, on his best day, he probably doesn't give up that OT goal in that fashion.  The Panthers need to do a much better job finishing their scoring chances, and hope Mike Ambrose has a few more big saves left in him for the state final against LaSalle, a traditional eastern powerhouse that usually can score almost at will.

*Rick Tingle has really done a remarkable job with the program at Peters Township.  Take nothing away from him; that's a team that definitely takes after its leader.  But I don't mind seeing Kevin Zielmanski win either.  For years he has been, in my experience, one of the most approachable men in the PIHL.  He is just as good to his kids, and whatever messages he sent between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs clearly worked.  Bishop Canevin definitely paid more attention to detail on defense than it did when it came up against Peters Township in the regular campaign.  What also made the difference was how Peters handled adversity.  A team that wins 14 games in a row and unbeaten in 19 straight doesn't have to face a ton of adversity, so when Canevin was able to get a couple pucks behind Woody Shell, and the Indians could never get their offensive motor going, you had the feeling it would be the Crusaders' night.  Anything can happen at states, as cliche as that may sound, but if Canevin puts forth a similar defensive effort in West Chester, pencil the Crusaders in for another gold medal ceremony.

*In recent history Class A teams from the West have not fared well in the Pennsylvania Cup.  Perhaps level of competition is a factor.  Since I first covered the PIHL I couldn't help but notice the gap between the haves and have-nots in Class A is usually significant.  At any rate, the Mars Planets are definitely in the first group, and if you'll forgive the pun, they seem to be in their own little world.  They re-wrote the script by winning a state title in Class A for the West last year at Mellon Arena, their first Pennsylvania Cup in team history, and it's hard to imagine them not repeating.  Nothing fazes those kids.  Even when they fell behind to Westmont Hilltop, which came out strong in the Penguins Cup Semifinals against Mars, the Planets did not panic.  They fought back, and they gradually ground down the Hilltoppers, just as they did Hampton on Sunday.  Their defensive numbers, as previously quoted, are certainly mind-blowing, but their best defense really is their offense.  They have an absolutely relentless forecheck.  Flyers Cup Class A winner Springfield will have its hands full this approaching Saturday.

-"Mr. High School Sports"

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