Three members of the PIHL will represent the league in the 2019 USA Hockey High School National Championships, which will be held this week in Cleveland, Ohio.
Pine-Richland and Bishop McCort will participate in the Division I championship, while Burrell will play for the Division II championship.
Pine-Richland will enter the national tournament on the highest of highs after beating Upper St. Clair to claim the 2019 Class-AA Penguins Cup last Monday and defeating two-time defending state champions Downingtown East to win the 2019 Class-AA Pennsylvania Cup on Saturday.
“Fortunately, we did achieve our goal,” Rams coach Jordan Yoklic said. “Going into every year, the goal is to win a state championships. The group we have at Pine-Richland, the whole organization, we have high standards and we achieved that.”
Pine-Richland will face J. Serra Catholic from San Juan Capistrano, in Orange County, California, along with Glenelg High School from suburban Baltimore, Maryland and Pinnacle High School from Arizona.
“We obviously know how to win,” Rams captain Will Studt said. “We’ve been doing it all season. I expect big things from this team at nationals.”
Bishop McCort, meanwhile, will have gone a month without a competitive hockey game. The Crushers last played on Feb. 26, a 10-4 victory over Kiski Area at First Summit Arena at War Memorial in Johnstown. Bishop McCort finished the 2018-19 PIHL regular-season with a 14-4 record and finished in first place in the Class-A East Conference.
But thanks to a rule change for the 2018-19 PIHL season, the Crushers were ruled ineligible for the 2019 Penguins Cup playoffs because they have three foreign exchange students — Belarussian forwards Raman Yerameichyk and Matsvei Kurylovich and defenseman Nikita Zapolski — one more than the new rule allows.
So despite a strong regular season, the Crushers sat at home for the last month while they prepared for the national tournament.
“We’ve had some breaks of two weeks, we had one stretch where we went 23 days without playing, so it’ll be the longest stretch we’ve gone without playing, but it’s something that lately, we’ve been accustomed to,” Crushers head coach John Bradley said. “We’ve approached this as if our season was starting again.”
Bishop McCort’s pod will feature reigning national champions Santa Margarita High School from Rancho Santa Margaria in Orange County, California; 10-time Minnesota state champions Edina Junior Gold A and Jesuit College Prep in Dallas. It’ll be a challenging test, but one the Crushers are looking forward to.
“Everybody wants that opportunity,” Bradley said. “Our guys last year, had the opportunity to play for a state title and won a Penguins Cup. This is something different. Not everybody has those opportunities. The way it worked out this year, some things were out of our control.”
Burrell finished its PIHL slate last Monday, when the Buccaneers lost a tightly fought 4-3 decision to Ringgold in the PIHL Division 2 championship game.
“This is my first time at nationals,” Burrell coach Max Rickard said. “I honestly don’t know what to to expect. We’re going to need to bring a better game than we brought the last game (against Ringgold.) The boys know that they’re going to be playing one of the best teams in the country and they know that they’ll have to bring their A game every shift.”
The Bucs, which feature players from six different schools including Burrell, will participate in the open division, where they will face Boulder/Monarch from Colorado, Steinbrenner High School near Tampa, Florida and the Omaha (Nebraska) Jr. Lancers.
“It’s tough when you can’t see these teams,” Rickard said. “We haven’t been able to see any film on them. We’ve just had to go on stats and what they’ve been able to do against other teams in their league.”
All three teams will play round-robin games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with the quarterfinals and semifinals on Sunday and the two championship games Monday morning. The Division I games will be played in Strongsville, Ohio, while the Division II games will be played in Mentor, Ohio. Both are suburbs of Cleveland.