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2017 FHL Championship Preview

After a hard fought first round, the Mustangs and Huskies have once again risen to the top for a rematch of last year’s finals. Jimmy Besterci’s Huskies will look to defend their title against the top-seeded Mustangs and second year captain Sean Lyons.

The Huskies were able to close out a tough series against the Moose in four games, with all three of their wins coming after the end of regulation. After a very tight checking opening weekend that saw only four total goals in eleven periods of hockey, the Moose broke through for three tallies in game three. However, the Huskies remained strong and pulled out a game four win as Ryan Sabo batted the ball out of midair and past Jamie Zelena to send the Moose home early. Showing off their offensive depth and stout defence, the Huskies were able to come away with the victory despite not getting any points from league leading scorer Ryan Mains. Besterci commented saying, “Mains is a big game player. If he’s not showing up on the scoreboard every week, he’s doing the little things that help teams win games. He always faces the other team’s best player and somehow manages to come through in the clutch.” While that may be true, Mains will likely need to find the net a few times to help the Huskies repeat as champions.
In another four game set, the Mustangs bested the Pirates to make their second finals appearance in as many seasons, capitalizing on three points from first round pick Brian Grise and strong goaltending from rookie Chris Metzinger. While games one and two were marred by inclement weather, the Mustangs were able to battle through the conditions for a pair of wins, with Jesse Lyons notching both the first goal of the day and the game two OT winner. After a 3-1 decision for the Pirates in game three to avoid the sweep, the Mustangs bounced back to take game four 1-0, behind one of Grise’s two game winning goals. With the loss to the Huskies in last year’s championship in mind, we asked Sean Lyons what it will take to get over the hump this year. The Mustangs captain responded, “We as a team know that if we just go out there and do our jobs we have what it takes to get it done. If we all just do our jobs and take care of business, we can bring home the most praised trophy in all of sports.”

This is sure to be a physical, hard fought tilt, as these two teams know each other well, having met six times in the regular season. They played to a 3-3 split, with the Huskies winning the last matchup in week 15 in a game 5 shootout, led by a hat trick from Mains. The Huskies will undoubtedly rely on their wealth of FHL experience against the Mustang’s youth and speed in this championship rematch. Besterci is anticipating a battle saying, “You know what to expect from the Mustangs, they are a great organization and this will undoubtedly be a great series.” We’ll see how it plays out on the ice on Saturday. Now for some picks from the guys who are already home on their couches this year.

The experts have the Mustangs claiming their first cup in a 6-1 vote. Here’s the full list of predictions:

Joe Rogers: Mustangs in 5. It’s a really close matchup, but Pellegrino and Lyons are the best shutdown pair in the business right now. I think that’s what puts them over the top.

Nick Siniawski: Mustangs in four.

Andy McDonald: Mustangs in four. They have the best goalie this year.

Buddy Doyle: Mustangs in five. The better goalie is going to win it this year.

Dick Pilato: Huskies in five. Mains won’t go another series without scoring. He’ll be the difference maker.

Adam Cristallini: ‘Stangs in five.

Zack Siniawski: ‘Stangs in five.

Round 1 Playoff Results

FHL Championship: Mustangs vs. Huskies

Playoff Preview: Round 1

The regular season has come to an end, and it’s time for FHL playoff hockey! In a quick season recap: The Mustangs started out the season on fire, going 7-1 in the first 8 weeks and had breakout seasons from newcomer goalie Chris Metzinger and forward TT Simpson, who led their team with 15 points. The Moose, who lost out on first place by a single game, finished the season 6-1 after not winning a single series in February. The Moose finished with 5 players with 10 or more points to lead the FHL. The defending FHL champion Huskies got off to a tough start going 1-5, but ended the year strong winning 7 of the last 10 games. For the second season in a row Ryan Mains finished first in the league in goals and points. The Pirates had an up and down season, but hope to have a full squad come playoff time. Brothers Andy and Roy McDonald helped lead the team and can be found throughout the league leaders in all offensive categories, while sharp shooter Joey Faiello added 16 goals and 10 shootout goals. Now for our first round playoff matchups.

#1 Mustangs v. #4 Pirates

The Mustangs swept the regular season series 5-0, however 3 of those series went the distance. When asked about facing the Mustangs in the first round Roy McDonald of the Pirates had this to say, “The Mustangs are a tough team to play against starting with Sean and Jesse Lyons and Bob (Pellegrino). When you add in BG, Fetsko, Gardner, and TT they have the firepower to match ours.” Roy also added about his  team’s regular season struggles, “The Pirates had a rough season with attendance, but every week we gave whoever we played a tough matchup. I’m sure we’re not gonna be a team anyone is happy to face.” 
Although we haven’t seen a full Pirate squad much this season, you can expect the amount of skill will make up for lack of chemistry. There may not be a better offensive top 6 in the league than Campbell, Fish, Nick Siniawski, Faiello, and the McDonald brothers. The Pirates also have a solid d-core with veterans Rogers, Doyle, and Zelena, who will be asked to shut the door against a talented and speedy Mustang team. 
The Mustangs are looking to make their 2nd straight finals appearance and seem to match up well against The Pirates, with a clear edge in between the pipes. The Pirates used three different goaltenders this season and were a league low minus 32 in the goal differential department. They’ll be likely to turn to FHL veteran netminder Mark Olsavicky, while the Mustangs will rely on Chris Metzinger, who finished atop the league in total wins, goals against average, and shoot out saves. 
The Pirates may have more star power, but the Mustangs have the youth, speed, and chemistry, returning many of the players from last year’s successful inaugural season. Bob Pellegrino, who has been a part of the last two FHL championship teams (1 as goalie, 1 as defenseman) knows playing the Pirates won’t be easy, but is looking forward to it, “they’re going to be a challenge to play for sure. They’re a good team from top to bottom. We’ll need to find a way to shut them down. They are a clean, respectable organization, and it should be a fun series.” 

FHL Expert Picks:  Mustangs 3, Pirates 2

#2 Moose v. #3 Huskies

The Moose won the season series 3-2 in a string of highly competitive games, including a five game affair in the final week of the season.  The Huskies seem to have improved each week after a slow start to the year and hope to be peaking at the right time. Led offensively by probable MVP Ryan Mains (18 G, 10 A), veteran Shane Lucas (7 G, 11 A) and second year player Grant Wolf (9 G, 5 A) have also had strong seasons up front for the Huskies. On the blue line, the defending champs have opted to stick with their winning formula by returning their top pairing of Captain Jimmy Besterci and Pat Farrell. They’ll look to control the play in front of Goaltender Joey Neutrelle, who brings a wealth of experience as the FHL all-time leader in wins with 156. While Neutrelle struggled in the shootout this year, he won’t have to worry about that in the postseason, and he posted a strong 0.68 GAA in helping his team to the best goal differential in the league. Besterci weighed in saying, “Joey is a rock back there. He’s a difference maker and has stood on his head for us all season. He is a fierce competitor and is hungry for a championship.”
The Moose posted yet another strong season under Captain Zack Siniawski behind the most balanced scoring attack in the league. Forwards Adam Cristallini, Antonio Scheible, TJ Hall, Siniawski, and Tom Simpson all reached double digits in points, while franchise player Tony Bonacorso tallied 9 points despite missing much of the season. Defensively the Moose will rely on FHL veterans Dick Pilato and Steve Barron, along with newcomer Alec Italiano, and also hope to have former Commissioner John George available. When reached for comment George said, “Yanno it kills me to not be with the guys this time of year. But Zack built a strong and deep Moose team like always so I know the team will be fine. I will say this much about my availability: the only thing for sure about rockin’ Ron, is nothing is for sure.” Between the pipes, the Moose benefitted from the strong play of goaltender Jamie Zelena, posting a 0.63 GAA, and a league best 0.583 Win %.
While the Moose did a solid job containing Mains in the regular season series (just 6 points in 5 games, one being an empty net goal), they have yet to play against the Huskies second leading goal scorer in Wolf. Meanwhile, the Moose can look forward to more consistent goaltending, having played two of the regular season matchups without Zelena in net. With two well rounded teams that played well down the stretch, this should be a great battle. 

FHL Expert Picks: Huskies 3, Moose 2

FHL 2017 Playoffs

10:30 AM

#2 Moose vs. #3 Huskies

12:00 PM

#1 Mustangs vs. #4 Pirates

3 period games, 10 minute periods.

Games 1 and 2 will be played on Saturday 4/29

Games 3, 4*, and 5* (*if neccessary) will be played on 5/6

Week 16 Results

1st Star: TT Simpson
4 G, 1 A

2nd Star: B Pellegrino
1 G, 1 A

3rd Star: C Metzinger
3-1, 2 Shutouts, 3 GA

1st Star: S McKinney
3 G

2nd Star: A Toomey
 1 A, 1 SO Goal

3rd Star: T Simpson
 2 G, 3 A

Player Profile: Dick Pilato

Hello everyone and welcome to the final week of the FHL regular season! In today’s player profile, we sit down with a member of the Mighty Moose from Munhall, Dick Pilato. Dick thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us.

Any time for the FHL. It's a pleasure being part of this wonderful organization.

With one game remaining in the 2016/17 FHL season the Moose control their own destiny, with a win (or Mustangs loss) they will be this year’s President Trophy winning team. Talk about what that would mean to the Moose organization in such a competitive league. I know it’s only a league of 4, but still an impressive accomplishment and another banner to potentially hang in the rafters.

I think it means a lot. I realize that many view this as primarily a playoff league, but we're all competitive guys and want to win every week. This year in particular I think it's a honor for our guys to finish atop the league knowing that we've done so largely without the presence of our franchise player Tony Bonacorso, and had to bounce back from a tough stretch in the season where we lost four in a row.

You have always been known as a solid defensive defenseman, but this year you set a new career high in goals. Was working on your offensive game something you focused on in the off season?

I'm always trying to get better, and I do feel that my passing and stickhandling in particular have improved steadily. As far as scoring goes, I think it's just a result of getting more opportunities to shoot. I've gotten more comfortable this season with jumping up into the play and carrying the puck in myself, rather than always staying at home on the blue line.

There is always added pressure on franchise players and first round picks to help lead their teams, and you have definitely emerged as one of the best leaders on and off the ice. How do you handle that added responsibility/pressure? It must help having Zack, who will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time greatest captains to learn from.

It's great playing for Zack, because he's got such a great handle on how to operate a successful FHL franchise, but I have no problem lending a hand. I have played on a lot of sports teams growing up, and have been named a captain on nearly all of them, so I'm very comfortable taking a leadership position. I also ran my own FHL-inspired hockey league at my own high school for a few years, so that experience taught me a lot.

As mentioned before, the Moose look to close out the season on top and extend their current 5 game winning streak. As the playoffs near, you've been finding ways to win with different lineups every week, missing key guys like Bono, Z, Cristallini, John George, Nay and even goaltender Jamie Zelena. Talk about the depth of the Moose and how veteran guys like yourself, Hall, and Simpson have helped keep the team in the win column.

Well I can't say enough about guys like TJ Hall and Tom Simpson, who have been there nearly every week and always play really hard. Tom has done a great job moving between forward and defense when needed, and TJ even stepped in net and got a win for us a few weeks ago. We have some other guys too like my brother Gino, Cam Tichon, Gabe Phillips, and Alec Italiano that have stepped into bigger roles when needed and played really well for us. We have great depth and feel comfortable using it, which only allows our top line guys to go harder.

We always like to ask about having family members as teammates, and in many cases we have had the “I would rather play against, than with” response, but I have a sense that’s different with you. Thoughts?

Definitely with because there are enough of us to fill a full forward line and defense pairing if we're all there and on the same team. There's me and Gino, the Siniawski brothers, and our cousin Brandon Paluzzi, who played a little defense for the Moose early on this year before hurting his shoulder. Although it is fun playing against them too.

In your years at the FHL, what is your favorite memory? Maybe a particular game or series?

Definitely the FHL Finals game 5 in 2014, when I won the cup as a member of the Jets. We played Games 3, 4 & 5 on the same day, and the deciding Game 5 went into I think triple overtime, maybe quadruple. Myself and Tom Simpson played defense the whole time because we were short on bodies. I came off the ice only once, and it was because my hamstring cramped up so badly I could barely move.

Ok last but not least our favorite part of the interview… quick hitter time:
Favorite (non family) FHL player: Joe Rogers
Favorite FHL team of all time: The Moose
Toughest player to play against: Faiello. I block a lot of shots and his hurt the worst.
Toughest goalie to play against: Craig Hixon
Favorite NHL player: Brent Burns
Favorite sports teams: Penguins, Steelers, Pirates, Pitt Panthers
Favorite WWE Superstar: Dean Ambrose

Dick thanks again for your time today, and all the time you’ve dedicated to the league this year with helping ref and updating the box scores each week. Best of luck to you and the Moose the rest of the way! That’s all for this week’s Player Profile. Be sure to be on the lookout for a season wrap-up and playoff previews. Thanks and god bless the FHL!