STATE COLLEGE — The games are set; the best of the best risen to the top. All that’s left now is someone to claim Best in PA as six teams will face each other in the Pennsylvania High School Hockey State Championships at Pegula Ice Arena on the campus of Penn State today.
West Chester Rustin
The Golden Knights, who are seeking the ‘Triple Crown’ of hockey by winning the Ches-Mont, the Flyers Cup and the State title, will face Mars in the first game at 11 a.m.
Rustin isn’t new to this high-stakes game as it is the defending state champions, having beaten Quaker Valley last year to claim the title for the first time since 2009.
“They know what they have to do,” said Rustin head coach Nick Russo. “It’s not a new experience. Last year, Michael Grande and (J.R.) Barone were the only one really left from the 2012 team. That’s a tough position for him to be in. They were the guys there in 2012.
“Now, you have everybody but three that have been here before. That makes a big difference.”
Last year, Rustin felt as if it had a chance for revenge, having felt Quaker Valley stole its championship away in 2012.
This time around, it’s Mars looking to take it from them as it attempt to win its first championship since winning back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.
Mars, located about 26 miles north of Pittsburgh, went 17-4-1 on the season in the Tier 1 Western Conference, finishing second behind Quaker Valley — the same team they knocked out in the Penguins Cup Championship game a week before.
But not to worry, Rustin won’t be coming in blind as Russo continued with his ability to scout the opposition well.
“I have a pretty good book on them,” he said with a smirk. “We’re going to play our game and they’re going to have to beat us playing our game. You only get to see each other once — not like with someone like Henderson.”
Though Rustin has been there before and may have more of the pressure on them as defending champs, the players still know what they need to accomplish.
“They understand the magnitude and how important it is to the program and they understand how important it is to the alumni and the e-mails which have been flying in all week,” Russo said. “What they have to do is continue the legacy so the underclassmen, that freshmen class coming up next year, knows what they have to do.”
The Cougars, who stunned all as the 13th seed in the Flyers Cup AA tournament by beating each team by three or more goals on the way to the Championship, will be looking for their first State title in team history.
The team, which has been on fire since the turn of the year, are hoping the streak continues into the championship game against Erie Cathedral Prep.
“The team is flying high,” said D-East head coach Dave Hendricks. “They’re feeling good and have smiles on all their faces. You don’t want to say you’re playing with house money at this point, but they feel unbeatable. They feel bulletproof at this point and you can see it in the way they’re skating and playing.”
This will be Downingtown East’s first trip to states since its undefeated season in 2010 (though they lost that year), so unlike Rustin, will have kids who are new to the game, though not that level of intensity.
“A lot of these kids have played high-level hockey,” Hendricks said. “They’ve been tested a lot of times this year and they haven’t mentally or physically broken down. They’re all mentally prepared for this. They are one of the most mentally focused teams I’ve ever dealt with.”
Cathedral Prep won its conference in the AA with a 17-2-0 record, out-scoring opponents 124-45.
But there won’t be any surprises for the Cougars as Hendricks made the trip to Pittsburgh to see the team play in the Penguins Cup Championship.
“It’s going to be a great game back-and-forth,” he said. “It will probably end up a one-goal game with one team over the other. It’s going to be close. Everybody matches up really well.
“We prepped the kids and had a number of opportunities to look at various things with this team. We feel very prepared and confident.”