Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

PIHL

New, Old Rivalries Highlight PIHL Classifications

Drake Tomak of Wilmington during the 2019 JV Championship. -- BRIAN MITCHELL

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League released its 2019-20 classifications on Thursday, giving way to the individual association matchups for the upcoming season.

We’re going to look at the way the league lines up, highlighting specific teams who have gained (or lost) geographical or historical rivals.

HOUSEKEEPING

IN MEMORIUM

First and foremost, two teams will not be joining the party this year. Deer Lakes (A) and Knoch (D2) both took a major hit in the graduation department and will not be fielding varsity teams, opting to use their resources on bringing up the next generation. Burrell and North Catholic went this route in the last couple years, with the Bucs becoming the USA Hockey National Runners-Up in 2018-19.

THE NEW CLASS

Joining the fray will be a trio of new teams from the I-79/Beaver Valley corridor, as well as a team who is coming off a single-season layoff.

Wilmington (B) joins the newly minted Class-B, the open division formerly known as Division-2. Coming out of Hess Ice Arena, the Greyhounds had success last season, being a finalist in the JV tournament, falling to Franklin Regional 5-1 in the championship. It will be the second year for the co-op between Elwood City, Mohawk, New Castle and Union.

Ambridge-Avonworth (B) going under the moniker Avonworth rises to the varsity level for the upcoming season. The Antelope play out of the Baierl Ice Complex in Warrendale.

North Catholic (A) is the only pure team in their first run, and after a multi-year absence on the senior circuit the Trojans become the first association to be hosted out of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, a mere mile-or-two from the high-school campus.

Elizabeth-Forward (B) returns after a season off. The Warriors are rumored to be co-op with the Serra Catholic Eagles once again, but it has not be substantiated. “Hockeyville 2017” Rostraver Ice Garden is the host rink for this squad.

CLASS B

North: Avonworth, Burrell, Central Valley, McDowell, Neshannock, Wilmington.

Plays all division teams twice, other division teams once, 10 + 7 for 17 games

This six-team division is one of the more spread-out divisions in the entire league, with D2 runners-up Burrell getting the short-end of the travel stick. Two of the teams are located in Lawrence County, one each in Erie, Beaver and Allegheny counties. The good news for the Bucs is that the Knoch Lancers relegated to JV, opening up a few more 9:00 Monday night varsity slots at Pittsburgh Ice Arena – hopefully keeping them from hosting games at Alpha Ice Arena and Frozen Pond. Avonworth pairs well with Central Valley in the Beaver Valley area, while Wilmington and Neshannock battle for New Castle supremacy at least twice.

South: Bishop Canevin, Carrick, Connellsville, Elizabeth Forward, Morgantown, Ringgold, Trinity.

Plays all division teams twice, other division teams once, 12 + 6 for 18 games

The South Hills and Mon Valley are ripe for a battle, as Elizabeth Forward joins a seasoned group of teams that includes the defending D2 champion (and in-house rival) Ringgold Rams. Bishop Canevin returns all but two graduated seniors from last years squad and plays games against Ice Castle rink-mates Carrick. Connellsville (4), Morgantown (7) and Trinity (8) round out the top 8 teams from the 2019 postseason.

SINGLE – A

2 games against division foes, one against all others.

Northwest: Beaver, Blackhawk, North Catholic, Sewickley Academy

The “Battle of Brady’s Run” continues, joined by the newcomers North Catholic and Sewickley Academy. The teams should battle competitively through the season.

Southwest: Chartiers Valley, North Hills, South Park, Thomas Jefferson

The remaining southern and northern division teams after the moves to double-A and the branching off of the two Wheeling squads created what could be the better rivalry divisions in the classification. Where Thomas-Jefferson loses their arch-rival South Fayette, they keep South Park and Chartiers Valley while adding an up-and-coming North Hills squad.

Wheeling: Wheeling Park and Wheeling Catholic

The Patriots and Maroon Knights have the most unique situation in the PIHL, as neither team will be eligible for the postseason. They will face each other twice (or four times, awaiting confirmation) while facing the other squads once.

Northeast: Fox Chapel, Freeport, Indiana, Kiski

The Rt. 28 and 422 corridors take center stage as these Allegheny Valley teams match up in 2019-20. Indiana ended Fox Chapel’s 2019 Penguins Cup run in February, while Freeport and Kiski are looking to bounce-back after disappointing 2018-19 seasons.

Southeast: Bishop McCort, Greensburg-Salem, Norwin, Westmont Hilltop

The Crushers won the East division crown in demanding fashion last year, but were ineligible for the Penguins Cup. War Memorial rival Westmont Hilltop squeezed out a late-season split with Norwin, and Greensburg-Salem may play spoilers later in the season

DOUBLE – A

2 games against division foes, one against all others

Northwest: Mars, Meadville, Moon, Quaker Valley

Goodbye, Pine-Richland. Hello Meadville. This double-A division had a shake up, welcoming the perennial single-A powerhouse Bulldogs to an almost all Baierl-hosted division. Mars, Moon and Quaker Valley all call Warrendale home, meaning each team will play five-of-six division games on home ice, as well as three at the Meadville Recreation Center. Add another game against West Allegheny out of division and it’s 6 of their 18 games at their home rink.

Southwest: Baldwin, Montour, South Fayette, West Allegheny

Did I say goodbye? Baldwin had a “series of the year” candidate last year with Upper St. Clair and gets rewarded with three of the top teams in Single-A: The Montour Spartans, South Fayette Lions and West Allegheny Indians. In the postseason South Fayette defeated West Allegheny 2-1 en-route to a 6-3 championship loss to Montour. Fight on, Highlanders, this is going to be the ‘AA’ division to watch.

WA Head Coach Brian Boehm reached out to BurghHockey.com, and was more than elated for the opportunity to move up.

“This is where we belong. I’ve said for years that AA was consistently the most competitive Class in Pittsburgh. It took my staff and I a few years to build a competitive culture here that will allow us to compete at any level but we’re excited to back where we belong. Even more so that we’re bringing some natural rivals with us”

Northeast: Armstrong, Hampton, Plum, Shaler

Hampton, the only team to defeat Pine-Richland in the state of Pennsylvania in the last calendar year, will be placed in a division with three up-and-coming squads, as Armstrong will be two years removed from a Penguins Cup, Plum will have had three years since theirs, and Shaler is returning a squad that had a JV tournament victory as well as a varsity squad that only graduated their starting goaltender.

Southeast: Frankin Regional, Greater Latrobe, Hempfield, Penn-Trafford

Two teams base themselves out of Center Ice Arena (Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford) and the other two are out of Kirk S. Nevin Arena (Greater Latrobe, Hempfield) in Greensburg. The two rinks are 9.6mi and 16 minutes apart, making this the second closest division in the classification. The former single-A powerhouse Panthers are coming into their third season in double-A, looking to regain some of that glory. Greater Latrobe faced two consecutive seasons of postseason heartbreak, after Quaker Valley took them to double-OT in 2018 and Pine-Richland defeated them at the Island Sports Center in 2019.

TRIPLE – A

All teams face off twice. 

Bethel Park, Butler, Canon-McMillan, Cathedral Prep, Central Catholic, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, Peters Township, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley, Upper St. Clair

Here we go. Last three Penguins Cup Champions North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and Peters Township welcome Double-A champion Pine-Richland and runner-up Upper St. Clair back to Triple-A where after a season of three-team, three-game pods we return to two game sets. The Panthers automatically kick-start a rivalry with neighbors Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon, as well as South Hills foes in rivals Canon McMillan and Peters Township. Pine-Richland sets up shop with in-house rivals in Seneca Valley and the defending champion Tigers, while Central Catholic and Butler are regional rivals for the trio. Cathedral Prep looks to continue their torrid winning pace during the second half of 2018-19.

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