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South Fayette hockey rolling, looks for 1st Penguins Cup

Nathan Smith

The South Fayette hockey team has been one of the top squads in the PIHL during the regular season.

Now the Lions are getting ready to prove it in the playoffs.

Entering the final week of the season, South Fayette is near the top of the Class A standings with a 15-2 record. The Lions will look to continue their successful season into a run for a Penguins Cup. The team never has won the PIHL’s ultimate prize and last reached the finals in 2016.

South Fayette’s calling card this season has been stingy defense. The gritty, chip-and-chase style of play has been highly effective: The team is giving up 1.41 goals per game. The Lions have six shutouts and have not allowed more than four goals to an opponent.

“We have talked all season about being a defense-first hockey team,” South Fayette coach Frank Certo said. “I have to have the team buy into defense every game. I don’t think we do anything that special. We are just completely committed to it. The guys have bought in to creating offense through our defense.”

The defense has benefited from the play of goalie Bruce Hardman. The junior was a PIHL all-star selection, and he has the numbers to back it up: a 13-1 record, 16 goals allowed on 287 shots on goal and a save percentage of 94.4.

But don’t forget about the Lions offense, which has been effective because of depth. The Lions don’t have a point-producer in the the top 30 of Class A. But the team has 12 players who have scored multiple goals this season.

Ian Kumar leads the team with 17 goals and 11 assists. Ethan Szymanski (20 points), Daniel Pollock (18), Alexander Keller (17), Adam Unruh (17), William Bishop (12) and Nolan Sarnowski (12) have all been effective for the team this season.

“We have had teams in the past that we had one or two guys who could score,” Certo said. “All the offense depended on those guys, and everything behind them was a body. We are more well-rounded. We get goals from up and down the lineup.

“We have a third-line kid in Tristan Cribben who has scored four goals in our recent games.”

Heading into the playoffs, there is a bit of unfamiliarity. With 22 teams in Class A, South Fayette has not seen some of the top contenders. The Lions did not play other top teams such as Montour, West Allegheny and Meadville during the regular season. And it has been weeks or even months since they played teams like Bishop McCort and Indiana.

“I would be naive in saying we haven’t had our eyes on some of these teams,” Certo said. “Some of these teams have long histories in the Pens Cup playoffs and state championships. Those schools are going in with high expectations.

“But so are we. We won’t be the favorite pick going in, and that is a chip on our shoulders we’ll have.”

Nathan Smith is a
freelance writer.