Area hockey players will play in national event
By John Enrietto
Eagle Sports Editor
CRANBERRY TWP — Four former county high school hockey players will be playing for Pittsburgh Penguins Elite teams at USA Nationals early next month.
That event will be happening at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township April 6-10.
“To have the chance to host a national tournament like this, in a facility like this, is once in a lifetime,” Penguins Elite 16U coach and former Seneca Valley coach Mike Schall said. “The hockey should be tremendous.”
Schall's 16U team features goaltender Brody Lineman from Butler and defenseman Will Foley from Mars. The team was 26-30-2 this season.
The Penguins Elite 18U team is coached by Kevin Quinn, who also guides the Quaker Valley High School team. Quinn's team won the USA Nationals title in San Jose, Calif., last year and is 38-16-6 this season.
“It's rare for a program like ours to win that tournament because most of the teams are either private clubs or split-season clubs,” Quinn said.
He explained that the Pittsburgh area is one of few in the country that have Tier I players also playing high school hockey. Most other areas either have Tier I players competing solely for that team or their Tier I teams play a split season — before and after the high school campaign.
“We have a flawed system here,” Quinn said. “Having kids play Tier I and high school hockey at the same time puts undue pressure on them and there's little practice time.
“For example, my son played 100 games last year between Tier I and high school. It's hard to develop a kid's talent — like we should be doing — when we're playing that many games.
“I think the Tier I season itself consists of too many games. We should be playing less and practicing more,” Quinn added.
Seneca Valley graduate Alex Crilley is one of the captains on the Penguins Elite 18U team. He has 27 goals and 51 points in 58 games this season, including seven power play goals and six shorthanded tallies.
Butler's Trevor Gilliland is in his first season with the team and has six goals and 16 points in 39 games. He has three power play goals.
“Alex is having a great year for us,” Quinn said. “He's one of the leaders on the team and had an xcellent (national) tournament last year.
“Trevor is a dependable, versatile player. We can use him in almost any situation and feel comfortable doing so. These guys get to pay in a national
Valley’s Alexander Crilley races past Pine-Richland’s Nicholas Hawkins.
Crilley is one of four former Butler County high school hockey players who
will play for Pittsburgh Penguins Elite teams at the USA Nationals early next
at home, where their family and friends can see them play against top-level
competition. That doesn't happen very often.”
Robert Morris University will host a portion of the USA Nationals as well. There will be 16 teams competing in both the 18U and 16U divisions.
There are four four-team brackets in each tourney. The top two in each bracket advance to the quarterfinals.
“Then it's single-game elimination and anything can happen there,” Schall said.
Schall's U16 team will play in a bracket with Dallas, Northern Jersey and Omaha. The U18 team is in with Fairfield (Conn.), the Oakland Junior Grizzlies and Colorado Thunderbirds.
“They are all good teams,” Schall said. “Our 16U team had about 95 players try out and we kept 20. These players are the best of the best and we'll be going up against the best from other districts.”
Both the 16U and 18U Penguin Elite teams automatically qualify for USA Nationals as the host teams.
There are 12 district championship teams, three art-large bids and the host team comprising the respective 16-team fields.
“This is the best youth hockey out there,” Quinn said. “The caliber of play will be phenomenal, well worth the price of admission. Each team will have 10 or 11 players already offered by NCAA schools.
“A lot of these kids are future NHL players. They are that good. So many NHL players today once played in this tournament. To get an event like this here is very, very exciting.”
Teams will be coming from Anaheim (Calif.), Tampa, Connecticut, New Jersey, Detroit, Wisconsin, North Dakota, etc.
“They will be coming from all parts of the country because the districts are so spread out,” Quinn said.
Pro hockey scouts and college recruiters will be attending and observing the players. The UPMC Lemieux complex features two full-sized hockey rinks and 1,500 seats.
The Penguin Elite 14U and 15U teams won their respective districts and are headed to USA Nationals in Arizona.