Meadville Tribune

Sports

July 3, 2014

Bulldogs rejoin PIHL after four-year hiatus

MEADVILLE — In “Back to the Future,” Marty McFly had to get his parents together after accidentally interrupting their first meeting. In the end, McFly united his parents and returned to where he belonged.

Meadville hockey head coach Jamie Plunkett confirmed Thursday that the Meadville Bulldog hockey program was returning to where it belonged: the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League — where it won eight state titles.

Meadville spent the last four seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League, playing many of its games as the CCYHA Midget Flames. That comes to an end this season.

Plunkett is hoping the return to the PIHL helps the Bulldogs regain their championship identity.

“I think as a brand, the fans know us as the Bulldogs,” said Plunkett. “So when we played as the Midget Flames, I think it got a little confusing. Now, we will play every game as the Bulldogs, which I think people are used to.”

There will, however, be some changes.

For starters, the Bulldogs will not play Class A, AA or AAA hockey. Instead, the team will compete in Tier I of the Co-op Division, which was formerly known as the Open Division. Tier I is the more competitive of the two co-op divisions, and Meadville will include players from Meadville, Saegertown, Conneaut and Jamestown as it works to become a team of just students from Meadville.

“That is the goal,” said Plunkett. “The PIHL will monitor each team and make a decision as to when a team can be counted as ‘pure.’ Then we will play in a normal Class A, AA or AAA division.”

Plunkett is unsure when that will occur for the Bulldogs.

There is some possibility that all players will not have to come from Meadville Area Senior High School. The PIHL board, which was overhauled a year ago, is looking at the situation with a lot more flexibility. While co-op teams are not allowed in regular divisions right now, that could change in the future.

“The best they could tell me is that they would take it a year at a time,” said Plunkett.

In many respects, that is far more than the previous PIHL board did.

For Plunkett, this new board is one reason he and the Crawford County Youth Hockey Association looked into rejoining the PIHL. This board, according to Plunkett, is made up of people who played hockey, coached hockey or was a parent involved in hockey. For the most part, they understand the ups and downs of trying to compete in the sport, he said.

“It is a different monster,” said Plunkett. “And it is expensive. It would be nice if every school had a team and we could all cut down on travel and so forth. Unfortunately, that is not the case.”

The move back is also a coup for the PIHL.

It is not often you get to add an eight-time state champion to your roster of teams. To bring the Bulldogs back from the PIHL is a positive for the league, as well.

Plunkett was quick to point out that the league change had nothing to do with the PAHL.

“We had a great experience in the PAHL,” said Plunkett. “In fact, the competition, I think, really made our players better. But given our size, it just makes sense to return to the high school hockey we were used to.”

With the team’s affiliation set, Plunkett is already crossing off the key dates.

The first was the move. Second was his announcement that Bryan Ray would be the team’s captain for the 2014-15 season. Ray, a senior, was the Tribune’s Hockey Co-Player of the Year with Owen Miller this past season and was also recently named the Tribune’s Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year.

“The next key thing for us will be getting our schedule,” said Plunkett. “From there it is getting ready for the season. And for the players, none of them have any PIHL experience. So it will be a first for them.”

There is also a pending decision to be made about the Lakeshore Hockey League. Plunkett was unsure what direction that would go, as there was some concern over the viability of the league. He said they would make a decision on whether to remain in the Lakeshore league once they have answers on how the league is going to shape up.

“In either case we will continue to play those teams in non-league games,” said Plunkett. “So there will continue to be some relationship.”

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