The Peters Township hockey team has three senior captains, three players who remember what it felt like to drop PIHL Penguins Cup championship games at Consol Energy Center each of the past two seasons. Other than that, the Indians are a relatively young squad.
Not that head coach Rick Tingle minds.
“For the majority of the team, this is all new to them, which is fine,” Tingle said. “No one wants to have that monkey on their back; I’d rather they just go out there and play the way we’ve been playing.”
Top-seeded Peters Township will open the PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup playoffs tonight at the Iceoplex with a 7:10 p.m. game against No. 9 Central Catholic. The Indians are the most dominant team in the league, riding a 13-game winning streak and allowing an average of just two goals per game during that stretch.
But those numbers, sparkling as they may be, would be dulled considerably if the Indians can’t exorcise their Consol Energy Center demons.
“(Losing at Consol) has been rough, but I think it’s going to give us the drive to do better,” goaltender Brian Baker said. “We want to go there a third time and make the third time a charm.”
The Indians haven’t won a Penguins Cup since 2005, but the five-time league champions will look to change that by reaching next week’s semifinals at RMU’s Island Sports Center, then the Class AAA final March 20.
Recktenwald leads Peters Township with 28 goals and 67 points, ranking 10 behind State College’s Stefan Horgas for the Class AAA lead.
His linemates – sophomore Adam Alavi and senior Alex Debolt – also rank in the top 10, with 51 and 50 points, respectively. In the regular season finale, a 4-2 win over Butler, that line scored all four goals. Recktenwald and Debolt had two apiece.
“We’ve been finding each other,” Recktenwald said. “And even if we’re not, other lines have been producing, too.”
The team’s second line features a pair of sophomores, center Sam Barnes and winger Brady Cochrane, who’ve combined for 40 points.
Sophomore Carter Ekberg has been one of Peters Township’s top defensemen, along with the last of those three seniors in Brad Tylenda.
“Our new players have had the opportunity to step into some pretty big roles, and they’ve done well,” Tingle said.
Peters Township was 4-4 after a 2-1 loss to North Allegheny on Dec. 13, the team’s younger players struggling with defensive zone breakouts and working for a full game.
“You can’t score if you can’t get it out of your zone, and we had trouble with that,” Tingle said.
A 5-2 win over Canon-McMillan on Dec. 17 did wonders for the team’s confidence. So, too, did gaining experience.
The Indians won their next 13 behind some balanced scoring – eight players have 10 or more points – and excellent goaltending, with Baker (14-3) stopping 91.7 percent of the shots he’s faced and allowing 2.23 goals per game.
One of those 13 wins was a 5-2 defeat of Central Catholic (11-9-2) on Feb. 22, which featured three-point games from Recktenwald and Alavi.
Recktenwald, Debolt and Tylenda have been steady leaders, the first as captain, the other two as his assistants, and their maturity, along with those around them, has Peters Township hopeful it can forget losses on the season’s biggest stage two years in a row.
First a 4-1 loss to Bishop Canevin two years ago in Class AA, then a 2-1 defeat to Bethel Park in Class AAA last spring, one where the Black Hawks scored the game-winner late in the third period.
“You don’t get many chances to play at Consol, so when you do get the chance, you have to make sure you leave it all out there,” Baker said. “If you don’t, you’re going to regret it.”