Greater Latrobe’s Penguins Cup three-peat went from a possibility to reality Saturday night as the Wildcats earned their third consecutive Class AA Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League Penguins Cup championship with a 7-5 victory over the West Allegheny Indians at Mellon Arena.
“At the beginning of the year it was a goal of ours to be here and win the Penguins Cup for the third year,” head coach Daniel Ridder said. “We hit our goal. It will sink in later tonight."
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” junior forward Zachary Laduke said. “I’m taking in the win and celebrating a little bit. I’m sure it will settle in during the days to come.”
Greater Latrobe (18-3-1) jumped out to a 6-1 lead and held off a late West Allegheny (15-4-3) surge to advance to the Pennsylvania High School Hockey Championship. The Wildcats, who are back-to-back defending state champions, will face off against Flyers Cup winner Downingtown East at Mellon Arena on April 1.
The victory against the Indians was payback for Latrobe as West Allegheny defeated the Wildcats, 6-5 in overtime, on January 14 this season. But the game wasn’t without its drama.
Thanks to a four-goal second period, Greater Latrobe skated out to a 6-1 lead. But their dream of claiming back-to-back-to-back titles nearly turned into a nightmare as West Allegheny stormed back, and pulled within one goal, 6-5, with 2:34 remaining in the game.
“It’s not championship hockey unless it’s close,” Ridder joked. “I still had confidence all the way through. West Allegheny is a good team. They beat us once and we got up and rested on that. They pounced on that. “
“It was pretty nerve racking watching the goals go up on the board and getting closer and closer to us,” Laduke said. “We had to work harder to fight them off at the end.”
“We had to bare down there at the end,” forward Matthew Batis said. “I got a little nervous but it was good to come out and play defense to get the win.”
Batis led the way for the Wildcats. The junior sensation posted four goals in the game, including the eventual game-winner to pull the Wildcats within one victory of a three-peat as state champions.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Matthew Batis said. “It feels great to get the win with my linemates working hard. Being able to get four goals feels great. We were all passing well and moving the puck well. That made it fun out there.”
|Matthew Batis recieves his gold medal |
“Matt’s an outstanding player obviously,” Laduke said. “He displayed it very well out there. I’m happy for him. He and I are really good friends. I’m speechless by his performance. It was great.”
Batis crushed the Indians’ hope of a comeback with his empty-netter with 23 seconds left in the contest. The play started when Laduke, who finished the game with two goals and two assists, blocked a shot attempt in his own zone. The puck drifted into the neutral zone where Batis picked it up and deposited it into the net.
Following the score, Batis performed an interested goal celebration with a mock “curling game” as the Wildcats fans screamed with joy. Batis slid his glove on the ice and his teammate Laduke pretended to be the sweeper.
“That was my brother’s idea,” said Matthew of his younger brother, freshman forward Noah Batis. “The guys were bothering me to do it so I did it.”
The win for Greater Latrobe could not have happened without the contributions of key freshman players, including Noah, forward Joshua Singley, defenseman Robert Vasinko and goaltender Shane Brudnok.
“We had a ton of seniors we lost last year,” said Noah, who chipped in three assists in the game. “It’s a pretty dominant franchise we have. It’s fun and I feel proud to be a part of the last (Cup).”
“Latrobe has a lot of talent from our freshman, JV and up to varsity,” junior forward Matthew Batis said. “We keep producing good players and it helps us keep producing state championships and Penguins Cups.”
Greater Latrobe will now turn its attention to a third straight state championship with a showdown with powerhouse Downingtown East on the horizon.
“We have to prepare and come out firing in the first two periods,” Laduke said. “I know (Downingtown East) is undefeated so they have confidence coming into this game. We have to have the same amount of confidence.”
Greater Latrobe’s three-peat as state champions is a possibility. Now its up to the Wildcats to make it a reality. Note:
Wildcats forward Cody Ray recorded three assists…Goaltender Brudnok turned aside 20 shots for the win…West Allegheny’s leading scorers were senior Tyler Fitzgerald and sophomore Patrick Coburn with each posting four points on one goal and three assists…Sophomre Jon Levitt added three points for the Indians with one goal and two assists. RELATED ARTICLE: Dalesandro's Overtime Winner Clinches Class AAA Title for Canon McMillan
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