For the first time in five years, there will be a new PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA champion.
Pine-Richland made sure of that Tuesday night at the Ice Castle Arena.
However, it was the way the Rams beat traditional power Peters Township that made the triumph so special for Pine-Richland.
The Rams rallied from a 3-0 deficit and scored three times in the third period to beat the Indians, 4-3, in an 84 Lumber Penguins Cup Championship Series semifinal encounter.
“That’s not exactly the way I wanted to do it,” Pine-Richland coach Jim Black said. “We came out flat in the first two periods. We sat back and let Peters take the game to us.”
Nevertheless, Pine-Richland (20-1-2) will meet Kittanning (15-5-4) for the Penguins Cup championship March 25 at 3 p.m. at Mellon Arena.
“We just feel like we have some unfinished business there,” Rams senior Josh Fodor said. “We can’t wait to get out there next weekend.”
It is the Rams’ second-straight trip to the title game. They dropped a 6-2 decision to Peters Township last year at Mellon Arena.
“We really felt like we owed them one from last year. We lost pretty big,” Fodor said. “We were waiting all year to get back at them and this was the best time to do it.”
Yet, it was the Indians (15-9-0) who appeared poised to make their fifth-straight Penguins Cup championship game appearance early Tuesday night. Peters Township, which claimed three of the last four state titles as well, jumped to a 3-0 lead over the Rams through the first 29 minutes of action.
Dave Rigatti and Brandon Tingle tallied first-period goals and Dustin Roux found the back of the net for a short-handed goal with 21 seconds left in the second period for the Indians.
“When they stepped on the ice, I think the awe of Peters and the history there and a little bit of what happened last year down at the Penguins Cup really weighed on the kids’ mind more than I thought it would,” Black said. “That kind of set us back to start and we didn’t skate well the first two periods.”
Fodor, the team’s captain, provided the Rams with a spark when he raced up the ice with the puck on a breakaway and flipped it past Peters Township goalie Mike Mastracci for a power-play goal with 1.7 seconds showing.
“I thought we came out a little flat-footed the first two periods, but that goal at the end of the second really gave us some momentum,” Fodor said. “It sort of broke the ice for us because we were having a hard time.
“We didn’t have that many shots [through two periods] and I came in the locker room telling everyone to start shooting and don’t hold anything back because this could be our last game,” he continued. “We came out hard in the third period.”
Pine-Richland continued to chip away at the Indians’ lead. Dylan Trombetta scored with 8:11 to play and Jorda Yoklic added another one 2:19 later to tie the game at 3-all.
“I think the big difference was in the third period, we had a couple big hits and that’s what we needed to start the game and we didn’t get it,” Black said. “Once it started spiraling in the wrong direction, they couldn’t get it to stop.”
Rams goalie Andrew Hildreth was strong. He shut out Peters Township in the third period.
“The difference was our goalie,” Black said. “He came out and made some huge saves and really held off Peters and gave us a chance to get back into the game in the third.”
The game appeared headed for overtime before Fodor picked up a loose puck in front of the net after a scrum and slipped it between Mastracci’s leg pads with 56 seconds to go.
“The first guy had a semi breakaway and he got hauled down and the next guy got hauled down, too,” Fodor said. “I was just kind of hanging back looking for a rebound. No one before me actually got a shot off. I just came down and took a shot and it went right between [Mastracci’s] legs.”
Fodor, the PIHL Class AA top scorer in the regular season, finished with two goals and an assist.
“Josh Fodor getting the big goal right at the end of the second period, I think that lends a lot to what Josh is all about. He is a kid who is not going to quit,” Black said. “That’s why I had to get him on the ice more in the third. He’s a kid who can handle it. The more he is on the ice – even a tired Josh, he can still turn it up a notch. The whole team really played hard in the third.”
Steven Adams had three assists for the Rams. Philip Trombetta, George Saad and Yoklic all had assists.
Jake Dellavalle had two assists for Peters Township. Grant Schaefer, Gerald Raymond and Roux had assists.