Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.
For the third time in program history, the Westmont Hilltop hockey team will “take it outside.”
The Hilltoppers have been selected to participate in the Capital Blue Cross Outdoor Classic Jan. 25 at Hersheypark Stadium.
Coach Art McQuillan’s team will skate against the Hershey High School Trojans at 5:15 p.m. as part of a weeklong event commemorating the 80th anniversary season of the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League.
“It’s really a return to the roots of our game,” McQuillan said. “It’s a nod to a time gone by, before we got all the technology and modern equipment. I think it affords our kids an appreciation for the roots of our game and where the game has come from.”
Westmont entered the holiday break with a 7-1-1-1 record with 16 points in the PIHL Class A standings.
Hershey is in the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (CPIHL) and competes for the Flyer Cup in the postseason.
The Flyer Cup winner annually plays the Penguin Cup champion out of the PIHL for the Pennsylvania Cup.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our student-athletes to play in an outdoor game at a prominent stadium like Hersheypark,” Westmont Hilltop Athletic Director Tom Callihan said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The Hilltoppers previously played in outdoor hockey games in 2011 and 2012 as part of the UPMC High School Hockey Outdoor Charity Series.
In 2011, the Hilltoppers raised more than $19,000 for brain cancer research in memory of Dave “Ziggy” Zeigler, a local hockey figure and member of the Pittsburgh Penguins equipment staff who died from the disease.
Mars High School defeated Westmont Hilltop, 5-0, at North Park near Pittsburgh that year.
“The players shared in the great experience of outdoor hockey while honoring a contributor to their sport and helping with a superb cause,” McQuillan said.
In 2012, Westmont played a second outdoor contest, this time falling 4-2 to Quaker Valley at South Park rink near Pittsburgh.
“Both of our opponents went on to win the state title in those years,” McQuillan said. “I remember the experience. The kids light up. They’re outdoors and they light up.”
This year’s event will be played five days after the Hershey Bears and rival Lehigh Valley Phantoms play outdoors on Jan. 20.
The AHL teams will wear special jerseys that will be auctioned off following the Capital BlueCross Outdoor Classic with proceeds benefiting the Central PA Food Bank, Red Cross of Central PA Region, and the American Special Hockey Association.
The high school players will provide an encore to the AHL classic.
“To have a chance to play in an outdoor game is unbelievable,” said Sam Snider, Westmont freshman defenseman. “But having the chance to do it with my brother (junior forward Ian Snider) and 22 of our teammates will make it really special.”
The NHL recently finished commemorating its 100th year. McQuillan envisions the outdoor game will provide a link to the past for his young players.
“I’m hoping when the wind whips across the ice and cold air fills their lungs, our kids will sense a return to the roots of the game and have an appreciation for its history,” the coach said.