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Pennsylvania High School Hockey Takes it Outdoors

by Deborah Francisco / Pittsburgh Penguins
Inspired by the Penguins’ appearance in last year’s NHL Winter Classic, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League is hosting its second annual Outdoor Charity Series.

The Charity Series will feature three games between Pittsburgh area high school teams to be played at outdoor ice rinks at North Park on Jan. 22 and South Park on Feb. 5 and Feb 18. All proceeds from the North Park game will go toward the Pittsburgh chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The proceeds from the South Park games will go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.

The idea for the Charity series came about after Bethel Park varsity hockey coach Jim McVay attended the 2008 Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Afterwards he kept thinking about how the PIHL could pull off something like that.

“I was on my back from the Winter Classic last year when the Penguins played the Sabres and I thought, ‘We should do this with the kids,’” McVay said. “I had the idea initially, but I never pictured it to be this big.”

Last year, the first ever PIHL Outdoor Charity game was played Feb. 28 between longtime rivals Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon. The game raised $8,000 for the JDRF, a cause close to the hearts of both McVay and former Mt. Lebanon coach, Paul Tabai.

The players also felt strongly about the cause they played for. Bethel Park senior Ryan Nunez has relatives on both sides of his family who have diabetes.

“I like playing for this cause because of my family and also, our coach and theirs have diabetes, so it’s great to play a game for a good cause,” Nunez said.

Bethel Park fell to Mt. Lebanon 2-0 in the inaugural matchup. More than 1,000 fans braved the 11-degree temperature – not including the wind chill factor – to take in the spectacle.

“The main word I would use to describe last year’s game was cold,” McVay said. “In 11-degree weather people don’t come out just for the fun of it. People want to be a part of the cause.”

“I knew it was going to be cold,” Nunez said. “But it was the most fun I’ve had playing a game. You could see your breath in the air, and you had to look through your breath to see the puck.”

Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy knows what it’s like playing a competitive game outdoors after participating in the NHL Winter Classic in 2008. He is excited that the PIHL created a similar event.

“I think it’s great,” Kennedy said. “Anything you can do to raise money for charity, I think, is a really big deal and it’s great for the community.”

Part of the reason the PIHL decided to play the game last year, and continue the tradition this year, is because it harkens back to the early tradition of hockey.

“It goes back to the root of the sport, based on playing on frozen ponds,” PIHL Commissioner Ed Sam said. “It’s keeping the tradition of the game alive by playing outside. The game began with playing on frozen lakes, and on frozen ponds in backyards. Making an outdoor facility makes it a great event and makes it exciting for all of the players.”

The success of last year’s game caused the PIHL to expand the event into a three-game series. The puck drops between North Allegheny and Pine Richland at 7 p.m. on Jan. 22 at the North Park Ice Rink. The second game begins at 7 p.m. on Feb. 5 between Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon. Peters Township will battle South Park on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. in the final game of the series. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

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