Before Monday’s game Bishop Canevin head coach Kevin Zielmanski talked about the importance of back-checking against a team like Montour. His Crusaders guarded their zone with great jealously that night, but I don’t think even he, a generally upbeat individual, could have imagined a whitewash of one of the hottest offensive squads in the league.
Thanks to some solid play in front of him, starting goaltender Zack Daley quietly stole the thunder of former Canevin teammate Julian DiFilippo by earning his first shutout of the season in a 2-0 victory over the Spartans, a hard-hitting Class AA non-section win at the RMU Island Sports Center on Neville Island.
“In the past we’ve had some skilled guys who tried to do it all themselves. Now we’ve emerged as a team that plays together,” Zielmanski said afterward.
For DiFilippo, who made 19 saves and looked sharp in defeat, it was his first appearance against Canevin since transferring from that school in the off-season, and his old teammates tested him early, bottling the Spartans up in their own zone for significant chunks of the first period. Defensively Montour kept its poise and supported its netminder well before getting into penalty trouble toward the end of the frame.
Defenseman Matt Bilski got open in the middle of the slot and wristed a loose puck off the near post and behind DiFilippo just before a Crusaders power play expired to give the visitors a 1-0 lead with 2:05 remaining, Bilski’s first tally of the season.
“Our guys talked about how to beat [DiFilippo] and the importance of rebounds,” he said after his first varsity goal. “We did what we had to do.”
With the game getting chippy, Montour found itself under pressure again with leading goal scorer Zach Milnarcik in the box after a retaliatory penalty, though the Spartans had a great chance to pull even shorthanded when Josh Castelveter forced a turnover in the Crusaders’ zone. But Castelveter could not settle the puck down in time to take a clean shot on his breakaway, thus preserving Canevin’s one-goal advantage at the buzzer.
The Spartans tried to shift that pressure in the second period but weren’t able to execute. Zachary Schwartz missed a partially open net high in the early moments of the period, and they weren’t even able to get pucks to the net late in the period when Milnarcik drew a hooking call.
Canevin responded to the Spartans’ attack throughout the second with stifling man-to-man play on the back end, and as a result, Montour needed a big blocker save by DiFilippo on a Peter Karney shorthanded breakaway to keep it a one-goal deficit after two periods. The Spartans, who owned the second-highest scoring offense in Class AA entering the game, had managed just nine shots on Daley heading into the ice cut.
Although he hadn’t been tested much he remained sharp at the beginning of the third, stopping a bouncing shot by Brad Boyle from close range moments after Montour killed yet another penalty. This opened the door for the Canevin offense, which got its legs going once again, to add insurance.
With 11:03 left in the third, forward Matt Walsh found the puck deep along the near boards, skated calmly around a prone Montour defender, and fired it by a diving DiFilippo to make it a 2-0 lead for the Crusaders. It was Walsh’s third goal in as many games, not to mention his tenth point.
DiFilippo kept his cool and made several key stops to keep things interesting, but Daley remained equally stubborn, denying Milnarcik on a couple occasions to earn win number three on the campaign, as Bishop Canevin improved to 4-0-0 to remain atop Section 3. Montour’s season-opening unbeaten streak ends at four games, though the Spartans still held first in Section 2 with a 3-1-1 mark. Next Monday the Crusaders host Pine-Richland, and Montour faces neighborhood rival Moon at home.
BY THE WAY…
*Prior to this meeting the all-time series had been quite evenly matched since 2005, with these teams having gone 5-5-1 against each other in that stretch.
*Bishop Canevin defenseman Ricky McNulty moved up and spent some time on their second line at right wing. McNulty was in for regular second-line sniper Randy Unger, out with a shoulder injury.
*Montour was shut out just twice last season, most recently by Meadville, which is not playing in the PIHL this season, back on March 1.
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Our next Game of the Week takes us to BladeRunners Ice Complex in Harmarville, where the defending Class AAA Penguins Cup champions, the Canon-McMillan Big Macs, will visit the previous champs, the Shaler Titans in a non-section battle. For continuing coverage of the PIHL and Penguins Cup Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!