Meadville’s 4-0 win over McDowell on Oct. 31 was undoubtedly huge.

Not only was it the Bulldogs’ first victory in three Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey Association openers, but their first against the Trojans in three attempts as well.

A win over the Trojans tonight, however, would be even bigger.

Meadville and McDowell will meet at 8:15 at the Erie Civic Center in a clash between the PIHL West Division leaders. Both teams enter the contest at 4-2-0 with eight points, trailing PIHL Class AAA overall leaders Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair by just two points.

And with the two teams playing three games this season, the game is also crucial should a tiebreaker be necessary in determining playoff participants and seeding.

“Besides being a division opponent and a long time rival, the most important thing, as we stressed in practice, is getting the two points and trying to get to 5-2,” Meadville coach Jamie Plunkett said. “Even though we want to do well in our own division, playoff seeding is based on overall standings. We want to try to finish with the most points. Our goal is to be in the top four at the end of the regular season.”

Since its win over McDowell, Meadville has recorded wins against Seneca Valley (5-2), Baldwin (7-3) and Shaler (9-0). They’re only losses came to Penn-Trafford (2-1) and Mt. Lebanon (5-2), the only unbeaten team in the PIHL.

But as far as where the Bulldogs are at in comparison to their first game with the Trojans, Plunkett said they are “probably a little better.” He does, however, have one concern — special teams.

“We haven’t been playing very good on penalty killing and power play the last couple weeks. Especially penalty killing,” he said. “We’ve spent a fair amount of time during the break trying to shore that area up.”

Plunkett said the Bulldogs started the season somewhere between 85 and 90 percent in penalty killing and were around 27-28 percent efficient on the power play. Both statistics have since dropped.

“We should be doing a lot better than we are,” Plunkett said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvements, but (penalty killing and power play) are probably the biggest differences between Oct. 31 and Dec. 1.”

“When you get to important games, special teams becomes very, very important,” he added. “Hopefully, we’ll be better in those two areas.”

The Trojans enter tonight’s game on a three-game winning streak. In fact, McDowell has lost just one game since its loss to Meadville. That loss came against Bethel Park (7-0) on Nov. 10. And in comparison to the Bulldogs, one of McDowell’s wins came against Penn-Trafford, 5-2.

“One thing that jumps out is Penn-Trafford,” Plunkett said. “They beat us, 2-1. McDowell beat them, 5-3.

“(The Trojans) got off to a slow start, but they have won three in a row. They’re one of the top six, seven teams in the PIHL.”

One of the key reasons for the Trojans’ success is goalie John Cleary. Cleary has faced 114 shots, allowing just 14 goals for a 2.80 goals against average in PIHL play.

He will be rivaled by Meadville goalie Bryan Danczak. The sophomore has faced 104 shots with 92 saves. His goals against average is 2.40.

Offensively, the Bulldogs are led by Michael Noonan and Morgan Nickerson.

Noonan, who had a goal and two assists against the Trojans on Oct. 31, has a PIHL West-leading 10 points. Nickerson has seven points. McDowell is led by Brandon Oathout, who had five points entering Wednesday’s win over Shaler.

“Last year they swept us,” Plunkett said. “This year we play them three times. We also play them the last game of the regular season. It would be nice if we were to win tonight. That would give us the season series, and in the tiebreaker system that would favor us. It would be nice to take care of that.

“But getting the two points and trying to get to 5-2 is our number one objective.”

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