“Mr. High School Sports” – PIHL: New Netminder Notches P-R Upset
By Matt Popchock
With 483 victories, defending Pennsylvania Cup champion Bishop Canevin is the winningest Class AA hockey program in state history. However, the Crusaders (1-1-0) found out Thursday night that No. 484 will be a little harder to come by than they might have imagined.
On a night when accomplished alumni were present, and banners were unveiled honoring the fourth state and sixth Penguins Cup titles for Canevin, young Pine-Richland (1-1-0) played the role of party crasher with a 4-1 upset of the Crusaders at Mount Lebanon Ice Arena.
Defenseman and team captain Scott McAliney scored twice, assistant captain Luke Wagner netted a pair of insurance markers, and goaltender Chase Takacs, making his first scholastic start since deciding to forego another season of amateur hockey, made 30 saves to preserve a signature win for the Rams.
“Coming into the game, we were ready. We knew they were raising those banners tonight, and everyone was fired up,” Takacs said. “There was a good vibe in the locker room, and everyone came together and pulled through.”
“Our kids played incredibly hard. They skated with a lot of discipline, and they won the battles. We’re the kind of team that needs to go out and play good, strong fundamental hockey to win, and we did that,” head coach Mike Bagnato said. “We caught a break…with the change in Chase’s situation. He’s been coming to practice every day, and he deserved this shot.”
“It was last-minute that I decided to come back this year, but I’m having a blast,” the young netminder added.
It wasn’t all fun for his counterpart, Nikita Meskin, who gave a respectable 24-save effort in defeat, and was under siege much of the first period. Bishop Canevin’s veteran coach, Kevin Zielmanski, had talked before the game about his team’s need to possess the puck better, but Pine-Richland tilted the ice early on, and McAliney made sure that investment paid off late in the frame.
With 1:47 to go the defenseman forced a turnover, skated around a defenseman between the circles, and fired a wrist shot that ricocheted off the far post and behind Meskin to give the underdogs a 1-0 lead that, incredibly, they would not relinquish.
The Crusaders had tied Chartiers Valley for the most goals in Class AA during the previous regular season, and they had recently won the St. Margaret’s Fall Face-Off Tournament, defeating Class AAA Penguins Cup champion Canon-McMillan to do so. But they couldn’t penetrate the Rams’ defense and didn’t generate as much sustained pressure as one would expect until after the ice cut.
“Our defenders did a really good job. They cleared guys out in front…and I saw the puck the whole game,” Takacs said.
That included staring down the barrel of Bishop Canevin’s power play, which went just 1-for-6 against the newcomer, and denying Pennsylvania Cup hero Matt Walsh on a penalty shot with still over 11 minutes remaining in regulation that would have tied the game. Walsh tried to beat him on the forehand, but Takacs stopped him along the side of the net.
“I judged it right,” Takacs said. “I slid over with him, and by the time he went there, I knew he couldn’t go any other way.”
Walsh did answer McAliney’s second goal–a power-play tally set up by Wagner and fellow blue-liner Simon Ince five minutes later–by beating Takacs from close range during a two-man advantage at the 8:35 mark of the third, but Pine-Richland’s special teams responded with a back-breaker.
Less than two minutes later, McAliney was camped in front of the near boards along the Canevin goal line. He threw a centering pass to Wagner that found its way through Meskin’s legs off a deflection.
“I saw Luke in front, and I just kind of threw it at his skate, and we got a lucky bounce. We took over [the game] from there. It was great,” McAliney said.
“That’s one of my favorite things to do–just go to the net, and get in the goalie’s face,” Wagner said with a smile. “He threw it at the net, and luckily, my stick was in the right place at the right time.”
Wagner’s empty-netter provided the final margin in a win for a rebuilding Pine-Richland squad consisting of seven sophomores.
“It feels great to beat the state champs. I think they thought we weren’t as good as we were, and I think we proved them wrong. We’re a young team, and we showed a lot of heart. It was awesome,” McAliney said.
“We have a different makeup now,” Bagnato said. “My two older boys played on those state championship teams (in 2006 and 2007), and we had a lot of tier-one amateurs back then. Now we’re different. We have more of a solid corps, and we have to play within our abilities. If we do that, and we skate like we did tonight, good things will happen to us.”
Pine-Richland hosts Chartiers Valley at Ice Connection of Pittsburgh in Valencia Monday night at 7:10, while Bishop Canevin visits Moon in further non-section play at the Airport Ice Arena Monday at 7:30.
OTHER PIHL RESULTS (THURSDAY): In a possible Penguins Cup Final preview, Mars edged Quaker Valley 4-3 at Airport behind two power play goals from Austin Heakins, including the game-winner, while Clayton Bouchard scored twice for the Quakers (Class A, Section 2)…Derek Lesnak’s natural hat trick gave Bethel Park a 5-2 victory over Shaler, which got both goals from Robert Hlovchiec (Class AAA, non-section)…Gateway is now 3-0 after Luke Mandella scored his second game-winning goal in three outings to help the Gators defeat West Allegheny 3-2 (Class AA, non-section)…Hollidaysburg and Ringgold skated to a 5-5 decision, as Kent Brustle notched a hat trick for the Golden Tigers, and William Sutyak scored one of his own for the Rams, adding two assists (Open Class, non-section).
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