By Matt Popchock
Recently the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League named Cullen McMahon (Chartiers Valley), Jon Levitt (West Allegheny), Daniel Moscone (State College), and Noah McQuillan (Westmont Hilltop) its Players of the Month for January. All four were honored at CONSOL Energy Center during the Penguins-Rangers game Tuesday night, and all four have had a significant impact on where their respective teams might end up in March.
The sight of the sophomore McMahon back in a Colts uniform was a welcome one for head coach Lou Biancanello. McMahon has been a valuable puck distributor for Justin Sabilla, one of two other Chartiers Valley players to earn Player of the Month honors, but has had to rediscover his game after missing part of the season with concussion-like symptoms.
"The symptoms from the old concussion are gone," McMahon said. "I haven't had any symptoms since, so I guess I got lucky."
His recent play has been more than just sheer luck. He's carrying a six-game point streak into Thursday, and Char' Valley has won all six of those games to take over the lead in AA-Sec. 2 from defending Pennsylvania Cup champion Bishop Canevin.
That streak began with a season-best four assists in an 11-3 rout of Plum Jan. 26:
McMahon contributed a shorthanded goal and an assist to the team's most recent triumph, a gritty 5-2 win over Franklin Regional at the Mount Lebanon Ice Arena last Thursday. That leaves the Colts just four points out of the top Penguins Cup Playoff spot in Class AA with three games remaining against three vulnerable opponents: North Hills Thursday, Montour next Monday, and senior night against Moon Mar. 8.
"I know we haven't been there in a very long time, and with Canevin and [Erie Cathedral] Prep in our division, that's not something we take lightly," McMahon said after the fight-filled contest. "This is my favorite team I've been on. We really are like a family."
Although Sabilla casts quite a long shadow, McMahon has still been a presence in that lineup, which leads the classification with 116 goals, and certainly deserving of his award.
"It feels really good, because it makes me feel like I'm helping out my team, and helping the seniors get to where they want to be, which is states," he said.
The ultimate goal, hoisting the Penguins Cup on the same sheet of ice where McMahon stood Tuesday night, is well within the reach of Class AA rival Levitt as well. Levitt has led West Allegheny to its second section title in three years, and for the first time since Tim Veach took over as head coach in 2009, the Indians, the overall standings leaders, have a shot at the top spot in the classification.
West Allegheny tied for the number one seed in Class AA in 2006 under former coach Norm Cook, but lost the tiebreaker to eventual Penguins Cup champion Pine-Richland, and lost its lone playoff outing to Peters Township.
Levitt, who recorded his 100th varsity point on Penguins Pond at South Side Works Dec. 19, has settled into a third-place tie in the Class AA scoring race with 42 points. His most recent goal, his team-leading 26th of the season, proved to be the difference in a 3-2 decision over Canevin last Thursday.
He registered three goals and six points in January, providing leadership as co-captain to a West A squad that has won a league-best 14 games in a row.
The awesome success of the Indians, aside from being the least scored-upon team in the classification, can also be attributed to their increased commitment to offense, and Levitt has spearheaded that cause. West A only managed 66 goals in 2010-11, but it is currently on pace for 113.
Another team that has experienced an offensive bonanza this season is State College. The Little Lions have netted 101 goals, already surpassing their total from last season, and ranking third in Class AAA.
Moscone, who leads the team with 54 points and the classification with 34 goals, closed out January by nuzzling the nylon ten times in just a three-game span, and he rang in the new month with a pair of power play goals and an assist in a 6-1 drubbing of Shaler at the Penn State Ice Pavilion three weeks ago. Special teams are, in fact, his specialty; he leads Class AAA with 13 PPG's.
That Feb. 2 performance is worth noting because playoff-bound State College is clinging to the No. 8 spot entering Friday's rematch with Shaler, and the Titans are a potential First Round opponent.
Meanwhile, McQuillan wasn't privy to the Penguins' victory Tuesday because he was too busy helping his Hilltoppers battle through what turned out to be a 1-1 deadlock with A-Sec. 1 front-runner Serra Catholic at the Cambria County War Memorial.
Goals haven't come quite as easily for Westmont Hilltop, which has slipped to third in a three-team race for the A-Sec. 3 championship with just two games left before the Penguins Cup Playoffs. Nevertheless, McQuillan, who shares proud bloodlines with head coach Art McQuillan, one of the winningest bench bosses in PIHL history, has established himself as the unquestioned leader of that team.
Noah leads Westmont with 16 goals and 29 points, and while often skating with cousin Cullen McQuillan, the All-Star senior carried a six-game goal streak through the month of January, scoring twice in a 3-2 stunning of previously undefeated Mars. The Planets are the three-time Penguins Cup and two-time state champion in Class A.
It remains to be seen whether Westmont's window of opportunity to claim one of six first-round byes closed Tuesday. Thanks to that point it earned on the road, all Serra needs is a win over South Park or Freeport to lock one up for themselves.
The Hilltoppers close against Thomas Jefferson and Knoch, one of whom they might see in the First Round...unless the hockey gods, to say nothing of the "scoreboard gods," are on their side.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)
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