By Matt Popchock
Apparently the Latrobe Wildcats are human after all. Which is good for the rest of Class AA because, for a while there, they were really starting to wonder.
In a very gritty non-section game featuring 55 penalty minutes and only 21 combined shots–but plenty of quality ones–the Peters Township Indians (6-2-0) held off the three-time state champs by scoring four goals in a wild second period en route to a 5-3 triumph at Ice-O-Plex at Southpointe Monday night.
Team points leader Cole Snyder scored twice for Peters, including the game-winner, to end a four-game winning streak by the Wildcats (5-1-1), not to mention a 16-game unbeaten streak dating back last season to a 14-4 blowout of Franklin Regional Feb. 4. The Indians, meanwhile, have now won five in a row, and have outscored opponents by a whopping 46-6 margin in that span.
“To get a win against an undefeated team was nice,” Snyder remarked afterward. “There’s been a lot of turnaround on this team since the Penguins Cup Semifinals last year.”
Another highly impressive streak that came to an end was Peters Township’s string of three shutouts and zero goals allowed in 169 minutes and 48 seconds. Latrobe’s Jacob Koluder made sure of it by getting his team on the board with a power play goal, his third goal of the season, 4:01 into that action-packed second period.
The first period was much less eventful, though clearly some bad blood remained from the last meeting between the schools in the Penguins Cup Semifinals over nine months ago. During an unsuccessful power play Peters forward Alex Dagnal took a misconduct penalty for a headshot near the Latrobe bench, but fortunately for Dagnal’s sake his teammates bailed him out.
With the teams skating at even strength Snyder camped out on the doorstep of Latrobe goaltender Shane Brudnok and deflected a shot by Taylor Cox behind him to give the Indians a 1-0 lead with 3:53 to go in the first. It was one of the few legitimate scoring chances of the period, as the two Class AA powerhouses, both of which are known for stifling defense, moved the puck well but struggled to get it on net, so Peters made it a 2-0 game by crashing the net, again.
With 3:04 gone by in the second period Mike Glicksman retrieved a loose puck in the near corner and Ben Dachille, who skated right in front of Brudnok, one-timed Glicksman’s pass by the helpless goaltender for his fourth of the year. It looked as though the Wildcats, stymied to that point, would have trouble clawing their way back until a 68-second span set the tone for the rest of the period.
Dachille took a subsequent penalty and Latrobe took advantage, with Koluder scoring his aforementioned power play tally on his knees, lifting a rebound over a prone Woody Shell, the Peters Township netminder, after being denied on consecutive shots. Moments later Cox found himself in the box, and Class AA scoring leader Zach LaDuke found himself open. LaDuke skated through the right wing circle and beat Shell with a wrist shot for his 12th goal of the season to tie it up.
With the complexion of the game having completely changed Latrobe continued displaying the kind of resolve that has made it a dynasty. The Wildcats frustrated Dagnal into taking another penalty, and the Indians continued unraveling by getting caught with too many men on the ice. On the resulting two-man advantage Christopher Johnson, who had set up LaDuke, found Robert Vacsinko, and Vacsinko snapped a long shot through Shell’s legs to give the visitors their first lead less than three minutes later.
However, Peters matched that resolve, and despite giving up three straight power play markers to a team that had scored just four of them prior to Monday, the Indians needed just two minutes to respond. With 4:52 left till intermission Davan Groom carefully settled down a pass with his hand, swept in on Brudnok, and brought the crowd to its feet with a pretty backhand goal, his fourth of the year, setting the stage for Snyder’s heroics.
The Wildcats had trouble clearing the zone and turned the puck over to the Indians’ Evan Mitchell. Snyder went to his “office,” to the immediate left of the Latrobe goal, and he steered a shot-pass from Mitchell into an open net for his second of the night and team-leading ninth of the campaign to give Peters a 4-3 lead it would not relinquish with 2:39 remaining in the second.
“[Tonight] we learned that we can overcome anything,” Snyder said. “We were invincible.”
“We need to do a better job killing penalties, but coming back after all that was big,” Peters Township head coach Rick Tingle added.
Snyder ultimately got credit for this third game-winning goal of the season and second in a row, and in the final minute of the period, sophomore Trevor Recktenwald got credit for the game-clincher. Latrobe’s Ian Steel retaliated after a big hit by Cox, and on the ensuing power play, after missing a couple good chances, Recktenwald finally cashed in on a one-timer right down the middle to give the Indians a two-goal advantage.
The third period was without scoring, though not without special teams opportunities. Each team drew five minors in a span of 13:30, including coincidental unsportsmanlike conduct calls against Cox and Josh Singley of Latrobe with 9:16 left in regulation. Through it all Latrobe hung tough defensively, but the Indians hung tougher to nail down the victory.
“Defensive zone coverage is something we’ve been working on a lot,” Tingle said. “I thought our back-checking looked really good.”
Although it was a setback to the Wildcats in their pursuit of the top spot in the classification, Latrobe remains ahead of the pack in an underwhelming Section 4, while Peters Township padded its lead in Section 1. The Indians will try to make it six in a row when they visit Elizabeth Forward in another non-section contest at Rostraver Ice Garden Thursday, while the Wildcats will try to start a new streak when they host Chartiers Valley in non-section play at Kirk Nevin Arena later that night.
BY THE WAY:
*During its ongoing three-year run as Class AA Pennsylvania Cup champion, Latrobe has now lost just seven PIHL games. Two of those defeats have come to Peters Township, which went 1-1-1 against the Wildcats the previous regular season, and only one has come to a Section 4 team, a 4-3 loss to Greensburg C.C. Feb. 21, 2008.
*Snyder extended his goal-scoring streak to five games. In addition, he has registered multiple points in each of those games.
*With two assists in a losing effort, Johnson now has ten points (2 G + 8 A) in his last four outings. Monday’s game extended his point streak to six.
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