By Matt Popchock
With the most coveted hard hat in Washington County within reach, Peters Township goaltender Brian Baker decided a 4′x6′ net just wasn’t safe enough. So, with a blue-collar effort that would make his ancestors proud, he put up a brick wall.
“They’re going to come harder next time,” Baker said. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t stay this way.”
This time, the sophomore stole an important game from one of the most talented groups of underclassmen in the league, turning aside 31 Canon-McMillan shots, while a hat trick from junior Trevor Recktenwald sealed a 5-3 win for the Indians (12-3-3) over the AAA-Sec. 1 rival Big Macs (16-2-0) at Ice-O-Plex Monday.
“He’s been working hard all season,” Baker said of Recktenwald, “and he’s finally getting the help he needs. He’s been working hard, and doing everything he can.”
Not only did Peters earn the Miner’s Cup, a trophy commemorating the rivalry and the region’s history, with this regular season split, but it also denied Canon-Mac an opportunity to clinch back-to-back section titles, which the Big Macs can still achieve with any combination of four points in their last four games, or one more win and one more loss by the Indians.
Canon-McMillan is now tied with Section 4 winner Penn-Trafford for the top spot in Class AAA. The Warriors, who wear their section’s crown for the first time in six years, face off against the Big Macs in Southpointe Feb. 27.
Meanwhile, Peters stayed just two points behind fellow South Hills power Mount Lebanon–which went on the road and blasted McDowell 8-0–for the No. 4 Penguins Cup Playoff seed. The top four qualifiers in the 12-team Triple-A bracket get first-round byes, and the Indians still have a game in hand on the Blue Devils.
J.D. Oddi bested Baker twice in the first meeting, including once with a backhander, and he scored a similar goal early in the third, banging home a rebound, to set the stage for a period in which Canon-McMillan re-established control of the offensive zone. But the Big Macs, who took the previous meeting, 3-2, on Oddi’s winner, couldn’t get the equalizer while down 4-3.
“We just played our regular defense,” Baker said. “We played in tight, we played our zone, blocked shots, got it out, and really stayed strong.”
As that defense, which remains the least scored-upon unit in the classification, held down the fort, Recktenwald waited at his own blue line for a successful clearing attempt, which he gathered in at center ice and deposited while behind two blue shirts for his team-best 15th goal of the season, and second hat trick since the holiday break.
Recktenwald has put up multiple points in six straight contests, tallying nine goals in that span.
Early on he gave the Indians the first goal of the night by cruising into the left wing circle and beating Ryan Christian between the legs with a wrister, only to see Zach McKown answer for Canon-Mac just 1:14 later on a re-direct from Anthony Tonkovich, which extended the latter’s point streak to 16 games.
This game was as chippy as any of those 16, including the Dec. 12 matchup. The teams combined for 28 penalty minutes, and Peters had to kill off four two-man advantages on the night, and McKown scored again on the front end of one with 6:53 gone in the second period to make it 2-2. Recktenwald promptly gave Peters the lead for good by scoring short-handed on the back end of the same power play chance, firing his own rebound from a bad angle off Christian’s outstretched glove and barely across the line.
Twenty-two seconds later, Davan Groom made it 4-2 just for good measure, as he caught Christian napping and tapped another rebound softly between the netminder’s legs for his third point of the night.
However, it was Baker’s brick wall and Recktenwald’s wrecking ball that truly cemented this Miner’s Cup victory, during which Peters Township proved it was willing to run through another one in order to challenge the Big Macs in March.
“We were moving the puck so much better today. We’re working together more…shooting the puck, getting bodies in front, and working much harder overall,” Baker opined.
“We worked hard, they played hard. This game was all about effort. Whoever had more shots…[gave up] their bodies more…whoever displayed the better effort was going to [win].”
The hockey gods willing, perhaps they’ll meet again, at the “other” home of the Pittsburgh Penguins?
“I’ll bet we will,” said the blue-collar man.
NOTE: Comcast subscribers in the greater Pittsburgh area will be able to watch a full replay of this game on their digital TVs or Comcast-enabled mobile devices. They can join Chris Shovlin and I to relive all the action by checking out the high school sports section of the cable provider’s on-demand feature, beginning in less than one week.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)