By Matt Popchock
Of all the sights and sounds a PIHL player can experience when he skates at CONSOL Energy Center, West Allegheny forward Matt Grebosky will always remember two.
“I heard a ting, and I saw the ref give his signal.”
Although his feet eventually returned to the ground, he certainly wasn’t in any hurry to swim out of the sea of humanity that ensued:
The celebration will be short-lived as the Indians (21-3-0) prepare for Sunday’s 5:00 PM Pennsylvania Cup game against repeat Flyers Cup champ Council Rock South at RMU Island Sports Center, but Saturday’s 4-3 triumph over Erie Cathedral Prep (17-6-1) in the Class AA Penguins Cup Final will never be forgotten.
After a string of almosts and also-rans, it was finally West Allegheny’s year.
“Belief,” said captain Jared DiSanti, whose first postseason goal forged an early 1-1 tie, when asked about the key to surviving OT. “We came to the bench, and just said, boys, this is going to be our year.”
“We had a lot of seniors, and we just felt all along that this was ‘the year,'” said co-captain Jon Levitt, who finished a one-timer from DiSanti with 21 seconds left in the first period for his fifth of the playoffs.
When the lead evaporated, Mason Ervin reclaimed it for West A with another nice play right before the ice cut:
Cathedral Prep is a team never shy about dictating the tempo of a game, and its transition offense kept West Allegheny’s defense on its heels. The shorthanded pair from Ordos and Faulkner kept their hopes alive, and dangerous forward Jimmy Bufalino, whose hat trick buoyed his team in the semifinals, hit a post and missed wide on two fairly clean breakaways.
“They’re a quick team, and I think we adjusted better to that in the third period…and we’re a fast team too,” Levitt said. “That’s how we play.”
Still, even after Ervin’s goal seemingly put the Indians in the driver’s seat, the burden on them to grab the wheel lingered after 45 minutes of hockey. Mitch Campbell, also coming off a hat trick against Chartiers Valley, beat Jason Kumpfmiller with a pretty move around the PIHL All-Star and through the five-hole with five minutes left.
“Between periods we said we didn’t want to let what happened two years ago happen again,” Levitt said. “We knew we’d have another game tomorrow if we won, but we knew there’d be no tomorrow if we didn’t lay it on the line.”
He seemed as determined as any of his teammates to end West A’s Penguins Cup Playoff agony. The Indians had been humbled by Latrobe in the finals two years prior, but clearly those who remained, including Kumpfmiller, who made 17 saves in victory, grew from that loss.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Kumpfmiller was one of 11 seniors dressed by head coach Tim Veach, which was one more than skated for the Ramblers.
“The experience definitely gave us an edge coming in. Two years ago we came down here in awe of Mellon Arena. This year we treated it like just another game,” Levitt said.
“As Coach said, it’s an ice-bag game. You’ve got to put your body on the line,” Grebosky said after his second consecutive game-winning goal. “Erie did a really good job. It was such a hard battle, and it felt so good to raise the Penguins Cup to our fans.”
“We’re coming hard for states tomorrow,” DiSanti said, “but it definitely feels good to get this one.”
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)