Bethel Park and Peters Township had a good idea beforehand how Saturday night’s PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup championship game would play out – there would be a ton of hard hitting, scoring chances would be at a premium, goaltending would be solid and special teams could play a huge role in ultimately deciding the outcome.
And that’s exactly how things unfolded at CONSOL Energy Center Saturday night.
Bethel Park’s Zach Volzer fired a wrist shot from the left point that bounced around and eluded several bodies before landing in the back of the cage with just 1:56 remaining in regulation to give the Blackhawks a dramatic 2-1 victory in a game that saw all three goals scored on the power play.
“I just noticed there was an opening there, so I took the shot hoping it would just bounce off something,” Volzer said. “I just saw it bounce around and everyone put their hands up. I said ‘it must have went in.’”
Volzer took advantage of a scrambling Indians penalty killing unit that was running around a bit exchanging sticks with one another after one of their defensemen had his twig knocked out of his hands just seconds before Volzer notched the deciding power-play goal.
The goal by Volzer also came not long after Bethel Park was awarded a late 23-second, two-man advantage – although the winning goal was scored when it was five-on-four.
“We work on our power play a lot,” Bethel Park head coach Jim McVay said. “Obviously, if you don’t capitalize on your opportunities, then they would. Peters has such a potent power play as well. We were lucky to get that bounce at the end.”
Volzer’s goal sealed Bethel Park’s seventh Penguins Cup championship, and its sixth under McVay.
While Bethel Park emerged victorious, this was a night where both teams, and especially both goaltenders, can hang their heads proudly for such a well-played championship game – one that easily could have went either way.
“That’s a great team down there,” Derek Lesnak said after. “You guys very easily could have been talking to one of their big players.”
Bethel Park’s first goal also came early in the second period after they took advantage of a fortuitous bounce.
With an Indians forward in the box for boarding, Jacob Brown’s shot from the point was deflected on the way in by a Peters Township defender in the high slot. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, the puck landed right on the blade of Bethel Park’s Lesnak, who wristed a shot over the glove of right-handed catching netminder Brian Baker to make it 1-0.
“I was able to just collect the puck in front of the net and bury it,” Lesnak said. “It was a great shot from the point by Brown that was tipped by a couple of guys. It came right to me.”
Peters Township scored their only goal on the power play – a goal that was scored just 1:19 after Lesnak had staked the Blackhawks to a 1-0 lead.
Indians junior blueliner Brad Tylenda carried the puck into the offensive zone, lowering his shoulder to get around a Bethel Park defender. Patrick Hannan collected the puck from Tylenda and sent a beautiful backhand pass to the top of the crease where Trevor Recktenwald tipped it behind Alex Blum to even the score at 1-1.
But Blum and Baker held the fort from there, with neither allowing anything until Volzer’s late tally.
“That is the type of atmosphere that a goalie thrives on – when it comes down to you,” Blum said. “It was a fun game to play. Both teams played so great.”
“We’re a very defensive team,” Lesnak said. “Our goalie played really good. I think the two best defensive teams in the PIHL played today. That’s what wins championships – defense.”
Bethel Park won’t have long to celebrate. The Blackhawks will be back in action on Sunday night when they take on Flyers Cup champion La Salle at 7 p.m. at the RMU Island Sport Center.
“La Salle is one of the best teams in the country,” McVay said. “It’s going to be tough – especially with only 25 hours of rest. We have to go figure out what we are going to (Sunday).”