After eight straight eliminations in the semifinals, head coach Kevin Zielmanski and the Bishop Canevin Crusaders broke through to the Class AA Penguins Cup final, and, finally, claimed the championship title with a 5-2 defeat of Peters Township at CONSOL Energy Center Sunday night.
“This is my 13th campaign and when you lose in the semis every time you question whether or not you want to come back,” Zielmanski said. “I was glad I did it this year. We have a great group. I’m happy for them and relieved for myself.”
“Coach (Zielmanski) deserves so much more than he’s had over the past 10 years and losing eight straight semifinals,” senior captain Frank Vance said. “I can’t tell you how good of a coach he is. We played for him this year. … That’s the most rewarding part.”
Junior Matt Walsh led the Crusaders with a goal and two assists, while Vance chipped in a goal and an assist. Michael Mannsman, Randy Unger and Garrett Godlewski added goals for Caneivin. The total team effort helped the Crusaders carry the majority of the play in the game.
“It starts with effort,” Zielmanski said. “You have to give the maximum effort and be responsible with your assignments. These guys work on that. It’s effort, desire, systems and doing your assignment. You also need good goaltending. It all equals out.”
“I can’t even imagine three years in a row (we lost in the semifinals). I watched us lose before that,” Vance said. “We finally pulled through and when it counts in the championship we get it done. I can’t describe how happy I am.”
The Crusaders grabbed the early lead with 7:49 remaining in the first period. Walsh stick-handled beautifully down the center lane. The puck was knocked off his stick, but right to Vance in the slot. Vance snapped a shot into the top far corner, over the shoulder of netminder Woody Shell.
Canevin added to their lead with a tally with 3:08 left in the opening frame. Marc Slomiany had the puck at the near point. His slap shot weaved through traffic and was re-directed by Godlewski over the goal line.
“There was a big emphasis on getting the puck to the net and getting to the net,” Zielmanski said. “Their goalie gives up some rebounds, but we have to get there. If you’re going to score in a championship game you’re not going to blister one from the point. You have to get pucks to the net and pay a price. We did that.”
Peters Township cut the lead to 2-1 6:57 into the middle frame. The Indians carried the puck over the blue line two-on-two. Taylor Cox slipped the puck ahead to Davan Groom, who was all alone on goal. Groom slid a backhander through the legs of goalie Zachery Daley.
But Canevin responded with another tally just 37 seconds after the Indians got on the board. Walsh had the puck in the near corner and made a turning pass through the heart of the crease to Unger on the other side. Unger, who later left the game with a broken shoulder and is unlikely to play in the state championship, snapped the puck into the net for a 3-1 lead.
The Crusaders added an insurance score with a power-play goal with 9:02 left in the game. Mannsman found a rebound and maneuvered the puck over the goal line to give his squad a 4-1 lead. Walsh made it a 5-1 game with a spinning backhander with 4:51 left in the contest.
Ben Zalewski added a late goal for Peters to round out the scoring.