“Mr. High School Sports” – Penguins Cup Finals: Red-Hot Hawks Survive Defensive Struggle
By Matt Popchock
Forgive Zach Volzer if he doesn’t say much. He’s one of the more reserved leaders in the room, at least as far as we can tell.
Furthermore, forgive him if he doesn’t touch your Cup. He doesn’t mean to be rude.
“Playing here is nice,” frequent linemate Derek Lesnak said outside the Pittsburgh Penguins’ locker room. “But this isn’t the trophy we came for.”
The hard-working Bethel Park winger plays for a program in which Penguins Cup titles are a standard, not just an objective. Still, he and his teammates, who avoided the silver chalice like Sidney Crosby did the Prince of Wales Trophy in 2008, might have considered at least rubbing the Penguins Cup for good luck. A little of that couldn’t hurt, since the Black Hawks (18-7-1), winners of 15 straight in PIHL play, haven’t advanced to a Pennsylvania Cup game since 2005.
Veteran coach Jim McVay, the first to admit his own superstitious nature, has obviously affected these kids, though should we expect anything less of one of the most accomplished bench bosses the league has ever seen?
It was more than luck that brought his team its seventh Penguins Cup in history at CONSOL Energy Center. It was a commitment to defense by the least scored-upon squad in Class AAA, including 23 saves by Alex Blum, though Volzer did get a very convenient bounce on a power play that keyed a 2-1 win over Section 1 rival Peters Township Saturday night:
Even if you want to call it luck, that goal, Volzer’s second of the tournament, still followed the pattern of Bethel Park’s incredible second-half spurt: production on the front end set up by the back end.
“Derek set it up for me, I saw an opening, and I got a few bounces,” he said.
Before the puck was dropped, it was highly likely this championship affair wouldn’t be played too much at either end, but rather, between the blue lines. That was the case much of the night, including a scoreless first period, as Blum’s counterpart, Brian Baker, who stopped 24 pucks in defeat, wasn’t tested till the second.
With Taylor Cox in the box for boarding, defenseman Jacob Brown pinched to set up recent triple-overtime hero Derek Lesnak, whose second goal of the Penguins Cup Playoffs gave Bethel a 1-0 lead 4:50 into the frame. Towering All-Star forward Trevor Recktenwald tied it for Peters with a power play goal of his own just 1:19 later.
It was set up by Patrick Hannan, son of former Penguin Dave Hannan, who finished his brilliant postseason with seven goals and ten points.
That was all the offense the highly skilled Indians (17-6-3) could muster against Blum, who maintained poise while the Hawks maintained good gap control. Since allowing two late goals in their Penguins Cup First Round blowout of McDowell, the Hawks have allowed only four.
“Both goalies played really well, and Baker was great,” Lesnak said. “The game basically came down to a fluke goal.”
In all probability, nothing short of that effort will suffice against returning Flyers Cup champion LaSalle at 7:00 PM Sunday at the RMU Island Sports Center.
“Our work ethic and how close we are off the ice really helps,” Blum said of the epic winning streak that led to this coronation. “Peters is the same way. I just think it came down to us working harder.”
“LaSalle is one of the best teams in the country, and to play on 24 hours’ rest…our backs are going to be against the wall. Hopefully we have a little bit of gas left in the tank, but we’d better get to a Get-Go and fill it up,” McVay quipped.
Fortunately for his sake, Giant Eagle operates 24/7–and apparently, so do the Hawks, who have a chance to do something giant today.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)