By Matt Popchock
Coming off an uncommonly early postseason exit it seemed as though new-look Quaker Valley, off to a solid start, was ready to step back into the spotlight in Class A, but leave it to the team which knocked QV out of the last Penguins Cup Playoff to push them back out.
The Mars Planets (6-0-0), the two-time Penguins Cup champs and top-ranked squad in Class A per MSA Sports, continued their run of dominance and maintained their lead in Section 2 with a 8-0 laugher over the Quakers, the No. 6 team in the classification, at BladeRunners Ice Complex in Warrendale Tuesday night.
When the running clock expired the first-place Planets claimed a two-point edge on Quaker Valley in the standings, and although the Quakers (5-2-0) saw their four-game winning streak end in embarrassing fashion, they remain comfortably ahead of struggling Central Valley and winless Beaver for the number two spot in Section 2.
Elliot Tisdale notched his second hat trick in three games and enjoyed a six-point night, while Tyler Stepke, the Class A front-runner among first-string goalies in all major categories, turned aside all 22 Quaker Valley shots to earn his second shutout of the campaign. Through their first six outings the Planets have allowed a league-low four goals.
"Complacency is always an issue, so you always have to pursue new goals," Mars head coach Steven Myers said after the victory. "But the skill on this team makes it an easy one to coach."
Quaker Valley had exploded for 36 during its aforementioned win streak, and compared to recent one-sided losses to the Planets, this meeting began smoothly enough for the visitors, who killed an early penalty before getting a power play chance of their own. However, Tisdale started Mars on a familiar path midway through the first period.
Moments after that man-advantage expired, Tisdale took a lead pass from Nick Blaney, danced around a defenseman, and fired a shot that Zach Gittins knocked aside. But Tisdale tracked down the rebound behind the net, backhanding it blindly toward the QV netminder, and the puck somehow squirted through his legs for the game's first goal. A mere 38 seconds later Blaney followed up a shot and centered the puck for Tisdale right in front, who one-timed it past Gittins for his second goal and a 2-0 edge with 5:31 left in the first.
The Quakers still battled, but early in the second period the wheels abruptly came off their wagon. Joe Bender notched the first of four power play tallies by Mars on the night, not to mention the first of three in the period, by wristing a puck from the left point off the near post and behind Gittins 2:39 into the frame. Blaney, en route to a five-point outing, beat Gittins off a faceoff on a power play to give the Planets three goals in under two minutes and a 4-0 lead.
"We have a lot of young players on our team, and we got good contributions from all of them tonight," said Mars captain Kevin Leslie, who assisted on Bender's goal, afterward.
A four-goal deficit against the top team in Class A certainly seemed insurmountable, even for a Quaker Valley squad that continued to work hard from top to bottom, though just for good measure, Robert Foley redirected a shot by Bender into the cage with 3:13 left in the period, and Mars took a 5-0 lead into the ice cut.
The lead was made even more comfortable with just over three minutes expired in the third period, as Tisdale took a long pass from Austin Heakins, powered past defenseman Jason Lottes, and completed his hat trick by putting the puck through the five-hole of Gittins, his tenth goal of the year.
Foley's second goal of the night, another power-play marker he chipped off Gittins' left shoulder just outside the crease, made it 7-0 Mars and put the USA Hockey mercy rule into effect with 8:08 left in regulation. Maxwell Master iced the cake with his fourth goal of the campaign on a deflection of a Tisdale pass with 4:18 remaining on the running clock.
Mars will next hit the road for a non-section test against Sewickley Academy at RMU Island Sports Center next Monday before the rematch with the Quakers at Airport Ice Arena Dec. 13. Speaking of Airport Ice Arena, that's where Quaker Valley plays its next game, also next Monday, another Section 2 contest versus Beaver.
BY THE WAY:
*With 24 points (10 G + 14 A) Tisdale moved into a second-place tie with Tyler Speis of Serra Catholic in the Class A scoring race. Both sit one point behind Corey Schafer of Westmont Hilltop (13 G + 12 A), and Tisdale's 14 assists are second-most in the classification behind Hunter Grafton of Kittanning (15).
*Since bowing to the Quakers in the 2008 Class A Penguins Cup Final the Planets have now won eight in a row against Quaker Valley and, amazingly, have shut them out six times in that span. This includes victories in the 2009 Class A Penguins Cup Final and in the PIHL Outdoor Charity Series Jan. 29, 2010.
*The two power play goals by Foley extended his point streak to four games, marking his third consecutive two-point game. Master also now has points in four straight, having scored a goal in all four outings.
Click here to relive any or all of the action from the PIHL Game of the Week, thanks to my friends at the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions.
For continuing coverage of the PIHL and Penguins Cup Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!
for more features.