By Matt Popchock
So much for striking up the band…
The Pine-Richland pep band proudly filled the chilly air with their music last Friday night at the South Park Ice Rink, but consensus No. 1 Peters Township continued marching to a beat all its own.
With five different players scoring, the Indians (12-2-1) needed just a little patience and a five-goal second period outburst to open the floodgates and chase starting goaltender Brandon Bagnato en route to a 6-0 mastery of Pine-Richland in the penultimate game of the 2011 PIHL Outdoor Charity Series.
“I think we’ve bonded better as a team this year,” junior forward Ben Zalewski said. “We needed a team effort…Pine-Richland was giving us their all every shift.”
Bagnato made 20 saves for the Rams (6-9-0) through the first two frames before being relieved by fellow JV call-up Grant Goldberg who stopped seven of eight shots the rest of the way in Pine-Richland’s third loss in its last four games.
The trio of uncommon starter Taylor Kuhn, stalwart Woody Shell, and red-hot Brian Baker combined, in that order, for 30 saves for its Section 1 rivals, giving Peters a 12-game unbeaten streak and sixth consecutive win, not to mention its third team shutout in its last four outings.
The Indians took sole possession of the top playoff spot in Class AA from idle Latrobe with the victory, while P-R continued to hold down the No. 9 seed. Both programs raised money for cancer research, with ticket proceeds going to the Pittsburgh chapter of the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure.
It was perhaps the most fascinating matchup of the Outdoor Charity Series, pitting two teams that combined for seven Penguins Cups and five state championships in the previous decade, but Peters Township made it clear that they are closer to heading “back to the future.” The top-scoring offense in the classification inundated Bagnato with pucks early and often. But to his credit, the sophomore held tough, and Kuhn made a couple key saves as well to preserve the scoreless tie after one.
Peters got the breakthrough it had worked so hard for just 37 seconds into the second period when senior Mike Glicksman scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, his seventh tally of the season, on a rebound right out in front of Bagnato. Zalewski took a pass from Taylor Cox, swept around a defender, and beat him while breezing through the right circle to give the Indians a 2-0 lead 2:09 into the period and start the snowball rolling.
Not even heavy snow–actual snow, that is–could slow down the hard-charging Indians on this year.
“The only tough thing was the snow falling down in your face,” Zalewski said of the conditions. “But that was about it.”
Team scoring leader Cole Snyder got into the act with just over 10 minutes left in the second, when he notched his 11th goal and 32nd point of the campaign, giving him goals in back-to-back games for the first time in over a month. Junior David Rex gave Shell even more breathing room with an unassisted score at the 10:24 mark.
Meanwhile, Peters Township’s penalty killers continued to handle their business, and though it appeared Zalewski had his second of the night with just 29 seconds till the ice cut, officials ultimately agreed a centering pass from Cox had deflected in off the stick of a Pine-Richland skater, giving Cox his team-leading 15th of the year and third shorthanded goal.
Junior forward Davan Groom showed determination that offset his size by beating Goldberg with a backhander as he was knocked down in the game’s final seconds to ice the cake. Baker, sporting a black-and-gold toque remotely similar to what Sabres goalie Ryan Miller wore in the NHL’s first Winter Classic, didn’t allow his game to get cold, making 12 saves in the third to nail down the shutout.
It was one of a number of things the Indians have made look easy these days.
BY THE WAY:
*Zalewski, who had the game-winning goal against Moon four days prior, had put up points in four of five games after going three of four without any.
*Baker continues to lead all Class AA goaltenders with a 0.85 GAA and .960 save percentage, along with three shutouts. Shared shutouts do not count toward those three.
*The last time the Rams were shut out was a 5-0 loss Nov. 4 to Latrobe, the team with which Peters Township was previously tied for the top playoff seed.
(UPDATE: Peters Township earned another shutout this week, this time against West Allegheny, while Pine-Richland skated to a tie with Erie Cathedral Prep.)
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!