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Pregame thoughts - Jets at Penguins - 02-27-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

According to head coach Mike Sullivan, right winger Tom Kuhnhackl remain a game-time decisions due to a "lower-body" injury. We're not certain if this ailment is related, but he appeared to be hobbled a bit after blocking a shot during Wednesday's 5-1 road loss to the Bruins Wednesday. Regardless, he was working up a sweat in the hallway near his team's dressing room playing "warm-up" soccer with right winger Bryan Rust just prior to 1 p.m.

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To no surprise, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been confirmed as the starter. 

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Centers Evgeni Malkin (above) and Nick Bonino are slated to return today after recovering from injuries. Malkin's return figures to impact the power play which has been 1 for 23 (4.3 percent) in his absence.

"We hope so," Sullivan said. "We certainly hope so. It certainly was going pretty strong there for a long period of time, not just a short stretch. We know that he's going to have an impact there. Whether it will take some time to re-stablish that chemistry, we he can have an impact. I think he will. He's a really great player. He has great instincts. I think him and Sid, they really work well on that side as far as creating motion and movement and being instinctive. And I think because of that, they are difficult to handle. But certainly our hope is they can re-establish that chemistry before [Malkin] got hurt."

-Malkin has scored more than a few goals with that thundercracker of a one-timer from the right wall. Sullivan was asked if that shot from that spot by Malkin is unique:

"I think there's a lot of guys that have good one-timers. I think what makes [Malkin] unique is a combination of a great shot but also his playmaking ability. He has both attributes. Not only can he shoot the puck but he's dangerous but he's just as dangerous making plays and passing the puck off that flank as he is with the one-timer. I think that's what made that power play or at least helped that power play enjoy the success it had before he got hurt. He's a unique player."

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The return of Bonino (and to a lesser extent Malkin) will ease the work load for centers Sidney Crosby and Matt Cullen who have been asked to take a lot of faceoffs the last few weeks with those players as well as center Eric Fehr each sidelined due to injuries. Bonino is the team's third-best faceoff specialist with a success rate of 53.3 percent.

Crosby doesn't seem to mind if he has to take fewer faceoffs.

"Both guys are able to take draws," Crosby said. "It's probably going to cut down on minutes too. You don't want to get stuck out there in the [defensive] zone sometimes. If you lose a draw, sometimes it happens. I think the flow and getting everyone back into it, it will be good those are guys are back in a lot of areas, but definitely there."

Sullivan concurred.

“It helps a lot," Sullivan said. "They're both veteran guys that have the ability to win draws. I think it will hopefully take some pressure off of Sid in particular in taking some of the defensive zone draws.”

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-The Coyotes are scheduled to have 11 members of their front office, including general manager Don Maloney, in the press box tonight. Before you get too excited and start working out any trades for any Coyotes players, they are playing in Pittsburgh Monday.

(Photos: Harry How/Getty Images)

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About the Jets - 02-27-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

A preview of the Jets.

When and where: 3 p.m., EST, Consol Energy Center.

TV: Root.

Record: 26-30-4, 56 points. The Jets are in last place of the Central Division.

Leading Scorer: Right winger Blake Wheeler, 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists).

Last Game: 6-3 road win against the Stars Thursday. Center Mark Schiefele had a goal and three assists for the Jets.

Last Game against the Penguins: 1-0 home win Dec. 27. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves for the Jets.

Jets Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. He has a four-game scoring streak.

Ex-Penguins on the Jets: Right winger Chris Thorburn.

Ex-Jets/Thrashers on the Penguins: Associate general manager Jason Botterill, right winger Pascal Dupuis, center Eric Fehr, left winger Chris Kunitz, player development coach Mark Recchi.

Useless Jets/Thrashers Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Jets right winger Drew Stafford (170 goals) is one of four Wisconsin-born players with 100 or more career goals. The others are Penguins right winger Phil Kessel (266), Sharks center Joe Pavelski (254) and former Flames/Blackhawks/Sharks defenseman Gary Suter (203).

The last time the Penguins played the Jets, this happened: 

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (24-14-6, 2.43 GAA, .919 SV%) for the Penguins. Michael Hutchinson (7-11-1, 2.89 GAA, .908 SV%) for the Jets.

Injuries: For the Penguins, defenseman centers Nick Bonino (hand) and Evgeni Malkin ("upper body") are probable. Right winger Tom Kuhnhackl ("lower body") is questionable. Right wingers Beau Bennett (right shoulder), Pascal Dupuis (blood clots), defensemen Ben Lovejoy ("upper body"), David Warsofsky (head) and center Eric Fehr ("lower body") are on injured reserve. For the Jets, center Bryan Little (vertebrae) is out. Defensemen Grant Clitsome ("lower body") and Mark Stuart ("upper body") are on injured reserve.

Potential lines and defensive pairings: Neither team held a morning skate. The Penguins' lines and defensive pairings at practice Friday were:  

14 Chris Kunitz  - 87 Sidney Crosby - 72 Patric Hornqvist
62 Carl Hagelin - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 81 Phil Kessel
23 Scott Wilson - 13 Nick Bonino - 43 Conor Sheary
11 Kevin Porter - 7 Matt Cullen - 34 Bryan Rust

58 Kris Letang - 3 Olli Maatta
6 
Trevor Daley - 8 Brian Dumoulin 
28 Ian Cole - 51 Derrick Pouliot

-Consider this a guess at the Jets' lines and pairings based off their practice Friday and their game Thursday:

27 Nikolaj Ehlers - 55 Mark Scheifele - 26 Blake Wheeler
6 Alexander Burmistrov - 85 Mathieu Perreault - 12 Drew Stafford
40 Joel Armia - 17 Adam Lowry - 56 Marko Dano
22 Chris Thorburn - 9 Andrew Copp - 14 Anthony Peluso

39 Tobias Enstrom - 33 Dustin Byfuglien
7 Ben Chiarot - 55 Tyler Myers
2 Adam Pardy- 8 Jacob Trouba

Notes:

-Malkin and Bonino are each expected to play after being sidelined several games due to injuries.

-To make room for them on the roster, Lovejoy was placed on injured reserve.

-The Penguins recalled defenseman Steve Oleksy from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

-Center Marko Dano is expected to make his Jets debut.

-The referees are (No. 4) Wes McCauley and (No. 27) Eric Furlatt. The linesmen are (No. 93) Brian Murphy and (No. 96) David Brisebois.

(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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Empty Netter Assists - Plotnikov on the move? - 02-27-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-According to his agent Mike Liut, the Penguins are trying to trade left winger Sergei Plotnikov (above).

-Centers Evgeni Malkin ("lower body") and Nick Bonino (hand) were activated from injured reserve while defenseman Ben Lovejoy ("upper body") was placed on injured reserve.

-Defenseman Olli Maatta got paid.

-Former Penguins right winger Andy Bathgate has died. He was 83. 

-Head coach Mike Sullivan speaks:

-Malkin speaks:

-Captain/center Sidney Crosby speaks:

-Shootout goals by center Dominik Simon and left winger Kael Mouillierat gave the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins a 3-2 win against the Portland Pirates. Goaltender Matt Murray made 32 saves in the victory which snapped a five-game losing streak.

-Goaltender Brian Foster made 27 saves for the Wheeling Nailers in a 5-1 win against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

-Highlights:

-"It means a lot to me. It means that one country that I played for recognized me as an athlete who contributed to the sport and appreciated me as a player. It’s truly a huge honor to be inducted, especially coming from a little town in Lithuania and being among the greats of Russian hockey. It’s an amazing feeling and a cool thing to tell your children when they get older." - Former Penguins defenseman Darius Kasparaitis on recently being inducted into the Russian Hockey Hall of Fame.

-Happy 32nd birthday to former Penguins goaltender John Curry. A free agent signing in 2007, Curry spent parts of two seasons with the Penguins. In 2008-09, he appeared in three games and had a 2-1-0 record with a 2.40 goals against average and .913 save percentage. During 2009-10, he appeared in one game, had a 0-1-0 record along with a 12.50 goals against average and .643 save percentage. He was released from the organization after the 2010-11 season. In four games with the Penguins, Curry had a 2-2-0 record with a 3.79 goals against average and .867 save percentage.

-Happy 67th birthday to former Penguins defenseman Ab DeMarco (right). Acquired midway through 1973-74 along with defenseman Steve Durbano and left winger Bob Kelly in deal which sent defenseman Bryan Watson, left winger Greg Polis and a draft pick to the Blues, DeMarco spent parts of two seasons with the Penguins. He finished 1973-74 by appearing in 34 games for the Penguins and scoring 19 points. After eight games and three points in 1974-75, DeMarco was traded to the Canucks in exchange for defenseman Barry Wilkins. In 42 games with the Penguins, DeMarco, one of six natives of Ohio to play for the Penguins (centers Brian Holzinger, Mike Rupp, Bryan Smolinski, defensemen Moe Mantha, Jr. and Ian Moran were the others), scored 22 points.

-Happy 28th birthday to former Penguins center Dustin Jeffrey. A sixth-round pick in 2007, Jeffrey spent parts of six seasons with the Penguins. As a rookie in 2008-09, Jeffrey appeared in 14 games and scored three points. In 2009-10, he was limited to one game and failed to record a point. During 2010-11, a knee injury limited Jeffrey to 25 games and 12 points. In 2011-12, Jeffrey saw action in 26 games and scored six points. During the lockout-shorted 2012-13 campaign, Jeffrey played in 24 games and recorded six points. After 10 games and 1 assist in 2013-14, he was claimed off waivers by the Stars. In 100 career games with the Penguins, Jeffrey had 28 points. He is currently a member of the AHL's Springfield Falcons.

-Happy 48th birthday to current Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. Promoted from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in mid-December, Sullivan has directed the club to a 15-11-5 record.

-After the Jump: Christian Ehrhoff and Rob Scuderi exchange zip codes.

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Andy Bathgate - 'Two things I've never enjoyed are public speaking and backchecking' - 02-26-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Before there was Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Rick Kehoe, Pierre Larouche and even Jean Pronovost, there was Andy Bathgate.

If in name only, Bathgate was in many ways the first star of the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Acquired through the 1967 expansion draft, Bathgate joined the new NHL team at the age of 35, well past his prime. Earlier in his career, he had been an all-star with the Rangers and won the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1959 when the league was limited to six teams. 

Mindful of needing an attraction to generate ticket revenue, Penguins coach George "Red" Sullivan told the Post-Gazette, "He'll help us in a lot of ways next winter, even if he doesn't score 40 goals like he did for the Rangers a few years ago."

As it turned out, Bathgate helped the Penguins on the ice plenty as he ended up being their leading scorer with 59 points (20 goals, 39 assists) while playing in all 74 games that season. His first point that season was the first goal in franchise history. It came at 7:06 of the third period in a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Civic Arena Oct. 11, 1967.

Bathgate died today at the age of 83. The Hockey Hall of Fame announced his death but did not provide details.

Bathgate spent two season with the Penguins. After that inaugural 1967-68 campaign, he joined the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League for two seasons before returning to the Penguins for his final NHL season in 1970-71. After retiring from professional hockey at the age of 42 in 1975, Bathgate was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.

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In 2009-10, this blog ran a series called "Mellon Arena Memories" in which current and former players and staffers were asked about their memories of the Penguins' arena which they were vacating. At the end of that season, the Penguins invited several former players for a ceremony prior to their final regular season game at the Civic Arena. Bathgate was among those who accepted the invitation and spent the morning skate watching the Penguins prepare to play the New York Islanders April 8, 2010.

Noticing an older gentleman sitting by himself in the West Igloo Club seats, I asked another reporter who that was and was told it was Andy Bathgate. Being a hockey history geek, my eyes lit up and I mumbled, "Whoa."

While Bathgate was hardly renowned for his time with the Penguins, he was still Andy Bathgate. In the 1950s, a decade dominated by the likes of Gordie Howe and Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Bathgate was very much their peer. He was hockey royalty despite playing on Rangers teams not nearly as competitive as the Red Wings or Canadiens.

Mustering up the courage to talk to Andy Bathgate, I lumbered up the steps to his seats and asked him if he had few moments to talk about the Civic Arena and his time with the Penguins. Fearing he would decline, he ended up being one of the nicest, kindest humans we've ever encountered while covering hockey.

He admitted his memories of his brief time with the Penguins were somewhat fuzzy and the 20-minute interview ended up being more about hockey in a general sense. He was 76 years old at the time and was quick with the one-liners.

With the playoffs near, I ended up not publishing the interview and forgot about it until I cleaned some old files a year or so later. One file was titled "bathgate.wma." I've held on to this file for many years through two laptops and far too many voice recorders to count not knowing what to do with it or even if I should publish it.

Today feels like the right time to publish it.

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What do you recall from that first season with the Penguins?

“We had a fairly decent training camp but [with] all new players from different teams. It's one thing to practice but when you come and start your schedule, it's a different tempo completely. I was very impressed with the arena at that time. It was a good sized rink. We had some good skaters on our club. We didn't get blown out in too many games. Expansion, you don't know what you're getting. It takes a while to form lines and get started. And the NHL didn't give up that many quality players and you're picking, choosing hoping you can meld a team together.

We missed the playoffs by I think one or two points. One game could change the whole season for you. I enjoyed the season. I thought I had a fairly good year. They actually traded me to Montreal but Montreal wanted me to coach. I wanted to play a couple more years. I went out and played in Vancouver [of the WHL] and I had two of my most productive years in pro hockey. It's a lower class [league] but we won two championships. Then I came back and played another year. I thought I wasn't participating enough and I hung them up. But I enjoyed it everywhere I went. I enjoyed it. Pittsburgh was all new to us. We didn't know the restaurants or that at that time. But the city has certainly changed in the last 60 years with the construction that's gone on here."

You scored the first goal in franchise history. What do you recall from the game?

"You expect from [an “Original Six”] team that you're going to get bombed, especially Montreal but we made a game of it and I think it gave us confidence that we can compete with these guys. They have their reputation. We have all these green [inexperienced] guys running around. You have to just try be competitive. We had a good goaltender in Les Binkley. We went from there.

It happens and at the time, you just say, 'Wow, it's a good start.' And against Montreal, you never expected to beat the 'Flying Frenchmen' at that time because they really did have a great hockey team. They maneuvered people around. They kept the nucleus of their team for sure. They kept 12 top quality players. We were expecting to get bombed out of the rink. But you keep it competitive and there's always that initial enthusiasm. Let's prove it to the fans that we're going to keep it competitive. Being an old veteran, you don't like to try to get on some of the fellows because you barely know them. You don't know their temperament is or that. Sometimes, they can take a little criticism as a plus but some guys take it as a minus. So you've go to feel out yourself. We had enough quality guys that I just felt we started something that could be carried on. There was a few bad years but those things happen to all the teams. Toronto's had 40 bad years!"

How many details do you recall from the goal itself?

“At my age, I can remember clearly really. I just knew we were going to be competitive. To be competitive, you have to have good goaltending and hope your defensemen keep things at bay because the forwards are all new to each other. Systems mean nothing. It's skate and shoot and hope you can put the puck in the net. That keeps away all the boo birds."

How do you describe your playing style?

"I wasn't known as a backchecker. I thought I was a playmaker. I wasn't a great goal scorer. I think I got more pleasure out of making a good pass where a fellow almost had a sure goal. I think I got more kick out of that than playing the point. You don't' have to think you're going to be a goal scorer. If you're playing the point, you've got to make sure the puck gets in that it can be handled. If you blast it as hard as you can, how are they going to tip it? If you put it in with what I call 'feeling,' they can tip it high, low, whatever they need it. But I see so many guys with the new sticks, they think the goaltender is going to get out of the way because the guy can get out of the way I guess."

How different is the game these days?

"The style of goaltending has really changed from our era where the fellows relied on their reflexes. Now they're basically equipment. Man, they look like monsters. To get out on the rink, they've got to come out sideways to get on the ice surface. It's faster for sure. They play 40 second shifts basically and we used to play a minute a half at least. At that time, we felt you could sort of set a fellow up with who's on and get an advantage. Now, you get your linemates coming over sometimes I look and I see about 15 guys on the ice. Five coming on, five going off at one time. We used to change maybe one or two on a fly. Not the way they do today. Sometimes you see guys standing behind the net for three or four seconds. We'd get a penalty at that time for delay of game. But it's exciting."

You spent most of your career for the Rangers who weren't exactly the most successful team in the "Original Six" era. What was that like?

"I played in New York for 12 and half years. I never once practiced on the ice we played on in 12 years because Madison Square Garden is used every night. And then if we made the playoffs, we had to go play all our games on the road because of the Ringling Brothers Circus took over. We didn't have much of a chance really to be realistic. It's frustrating because you think, 'What am I working for?' We've got to play all of your games on the road. We don't have much of a chance. If Toronto had missed the playoff or whoever missed the playoffs, we'd use one of their rinks. It wasn't like playing home games for sure."

What's the biggest difference in the NHL between your era and the current game?

"I just think the handling of the puck. I really do. Everything is high tempo. Go and take a risk. Dump it in. Go and battle in the corner. You always hear get a man in front of the net. We used to think, 'move the puck. Control the puck' That was always my thought. I always hated to just dump it away and chase it. I don't even think if you dump it in, you have a 50-50 chance. A guy could just freeze it. It's over with. It's a safe way to play the game I guess. I like to see the good passes, the movement of the puck. You see the Pittsburgh team, that's what they do. That's why they're winning. Sidney's a great passer. Malkin can handle the puck very well. They move it good. But a lot of times, you say, 'Who scored?' There's a mound of people around the net. Somebody might have it hit his pants or something. It's different times and they play different.

I enjoy the game. Sometimes I get tired of guys shooting the puck in the corner. I figure if I got the puck, at least I know I've got control to a certain extent. Two things I've never enjoyed are public speaking and backchecking. Put it in their end all the time if you can."

(Photos: Associated Press Photobucket and Penguins Hockey Cards)

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Loads of "stuff" on the WPIAL basketball championships

Written by Mike White on .

This, that and the other thing about the WPIAL boys and girls basketball championships this weekend at Pitt's Petersen Events Center. "Stuff" maybe you didn't know.

*** Let's start by answering two questions: Will there be live TV for the games, and will the lower level seats at The Pete be out for use this weekend?

Answers: No and no.

There is no live TV. However, for the 11th consecutive year Comcast will show all the games "On Demand." They will be available the day after the games. They can be seen by going to Xfinity "On Demand," and then "Get Local" folder, followed by "Sports" and "WPIAL Finals." Announcers will be Chris Shovlin, Paul Alexander, Jeff Culhane, Tim Benz, Ellis Cannon, Jim Elias and Meg Bulger.

*** Now about the seats. There will only be seating for fans on the second levels. Once again, the Pete will NOT pull out the first-level seats where the "Oakland Zoo" sits for Pitt games. I know, it takes away from the atmosphere of the game. It's a shame all those good seats can't be used. It's like a cavern on that side. The company line is "who would the WPIAL designate to sit there?"

I know, it is hard to figure out this head scratcher. But I'm done commenting on it.

*** Are ames on radio or internet? The Class AA boys and AAA boys title games will be on WBVP (1230-AM) and the Class AAA girls on WJPA (1450-AM). All eight games are available on the MSA Sports Network at www.msasports.net

Now, onto some other factoids:

BOYS

*** Pine-Richland has been in the title game only once before when coach Dave Degregorio took the Rams to the 2000 Class AAA final before they were beaten by one of John Miller's best teams at Blackhawk (Brandon Fuss-Cheatham was on the team). But Pine-Richland coach Jeff Ackermann coached Moon to the Class AAAA 20008 title game before losing to Central Catholic on a last-second shot. Ackermann also won three AAA championships at Moon.

*** This is North Hills' first title-game appearance, but coach Buzz Gabos coached Vincentian to two WPIAL Class A championship games before coming to North Hills.

*** North Hills standout junior guard Nick Smith surpassed 1,000 career points in the semifinals. Did you know he is the first 1,000-point scorer at North Hills and only the third in school history? Ed Crankovic, a 1978 graduate, is the all-time leader with 1,466. He was supposed to play at Bucknell, but sadly drowned a few days after he graduated from North Hills in 1978.

The last North Hills player to score 1,000 was Mike Yoest, a 1987 graduate. Yoest went on to play at North Hills. Here's a trip down memory lane. Yoest made the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 in 1987. Pictured below is the Fab 5, overlooking the city from Mount Washington. I still remember riding guys up to Mount Washington for this picture. Maybe you remember these guys, especially the kid in the middle from Blackhawk.

From left, it is Perry's Darelle Porter, Yoest, Blackhawk's Sean Miller, Shaler's Joe Nethen and Ellwood City's Dan Aloi. All five went to major colleges out of high school - Porter and Miller to Pitt, Yoest to WVU, Nethen to Marquette and Aloi to St. Bonaventure.

Fab 5 boys 1987

 *** Both Aliquippa and Beaver Falls have chances to move up near the top of the list for most WPIAL championships. Beaver Falls plays Highlands in the Class AAA final tonight, while Aliquippa plays Lincoln Park tomorrow in the Class AA title game. The all-time leaders are below, and isn't it odd the top two on the list are not even in the WPIAL? Duquesne closed and Farrell is in District 10.

MOST WPIAL TITLES

13 - Farrell

12 - Duquesne

11 - Aliquippa

10 - New Castle

9 - Beaver Falls

9 - Blackhawk

*** Aliquippa and Lincoln Park play in the Class AA final. Next year, they will play in the same section.

*** One of Lincoln Park's starters will be freshman Keeno Holmes. He is the son of former North Hills football star and former NFL player LaVar Arrington. Holmes used to attend Peters Township's schools but decided to attend Lincoln Park this year.

*** Cardinal Wuerl North plays Sewickley Academy in the Class A title game. Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer is going for his fourth title and North Catholic coach Dave Long his third.

*** Beaver Falls' Josh Creach is the P-G Athlete of the Week. He had some interesting comments on what he wants to do after high school. Wants to play pro overseas and not go to college. I don't think I've ever talked to a standout WPIAL player who has said that before.

*** No matter what happens tonight, you would have to think Beaver Falls will be the team to beat in Class AAA next year again. They will not have one senior in the starting lineup tonight.

*** Three of Aliquippa's starters made up the football team's quarterback (Sheldon Jeter), leading rusher (Kaezon Pugh) and leading receiver (Jassir Jordan).

GIRLS

*** Don't you find it remarkable that North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko is in a title game for the fourth consecutive season - BUT WITH THREE DIFFERENT TEAMS!!!! No WPIAL coach - boys or girls - is known to have taken three different teams to the finals.

Stefko lost in the AAAA title game in 2013 with Chartiers Valley. He won AA titles the past two years with Seton-LaSalle.

*** The North Catholic boys and girls teams are in the championship games. If they both win, it will be the 14th time a school has won boys and girls championships in the same year. The first was Beaver Falls in 1985, and the most recent was Seton-LaSalle in 2014. North Catholic also accomplished the boy-girl title take in 2009.

Aliquippa has done it twice (1987-88) while Blackhawk did it three times (1996, 1999 and 2000).

*** Bishop Canevin will take a sophomoric attitude into the Class AA title game. The Crusaders start three sophomores. Their opponent, Greensburg Central Catholic, starts four juniors.

*** Both Vincentian coach Ron Moncrief and North Catholic coach have won five championships. Here are the girls coaches with the most titles.

11 - Don Barth, North Catholic

8 - Bill Lind, Penn Hills

8 - De Porucznik, Mount Alvernia

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