Alan Halapin felt helpless Feb. 6 in Meadville.
With a broken foot, all he could do was sit on the bench and watch as his North Allegheny teammates dropped a 3-1 decision to the Bulldogs.
Back in the Tigers’ lineup Wednesday night, Halapin was determined to avoid a repeat of that performance. He delivered in a big way with a natural hat-trick and North Allegheny rolled to a 7-0 win over Meadville in a PIHL 84 Lumber Penguins Cup Championship Series Class AAA semifinal at Ice Castle Arena.
“I was really upset last time. It was a close game, but losing and sitting on the bench was frustrating for me,” Halapin said. “We had to play hard or else we were going home.”
The Tigers (21-3-0) earned a second-straight trip to the Penguins Cup championship March 25 at 5 p.m. at Mellon Arena. They will face Mount Lebanon (24-0-0).
“Going back to the Penguins Cup is definitely a dream come true again,” Halapin said.
Last year, North Allegheny entered the title game as the top seed with a perfect 26-0 record, but was upset by Bethel Park. The Tigers hope to relish the underdog role this season.
“We were the Mount Lebanon of last year. This year, we’re the underdogs,” North Allegheny coach Mike Schenk said. “We’re a pretty loose team and we have a lot going for us now. We’re just going to take it in stride and be ready to play.”
North Allegheny was ready to play Wednesday night as the Tigers pounced all over the Bulldogs (20-4-0) from the opening face-off.
“We had a plan and we knew what we wanted to do, in terms of taking away the neutral zone because that’s where they get all their momentum and speed,” Schenk said. “We anticipated it would be a very tough game. Obviously, Meadville is a strong team and a pretty talented team. They handed to us a couple weeks ago up at their place, so I am sure they were feeling pretty good about coming down here.
“We did not expect to come out here and score seven goals,” he continued. “We thought it’d be close. They just had a rough night.”
North Allegheny’s win snapped Meadville’s 16-game unbeaten streak (15-0-1). And, it was only the fourth time the Bulldogs were shut out in their illustrious postseason history.
“We knew it’d be a tough game, but we never thought it’d be like this. They are a really good team,” said Tigers goalie Max Richards, who stopped all 15 shots he faced. “Getting on them early was the game plan. That was what we wanted to do – jump on them the whole game and don’t give them any chances. We played like that and we put everything out there.”
Halapin scored 4:37 into the contest to give the Tigers a 1-0 edge.
It stayed that way until North Allegheny poured it on in the second.
Halapin scored his second goal 3:10 into the period and tallied his third 6:08 later. Chris Gilson added a power-play goal to give the Tigers a 4-0 edge at the intermission.
Matt Lancaster, Josh Herbert and Nick Vaglia all scored third-period goals for North Allegheny.
“It was good to see the team come together,” Schenk said. “They were very, very focused on what they wanted to do and what they wanted to accomplish. They went out and proved it.”
Now, the Tigers will look to capture the Penguins Cup championship that eluded them last season.
“This is what we’ve played for all season,” Richards said. “If you’re going to get there, why not go all the way?”
Dan Gaertner had three assists for North Allegheny. Paul Dittrich and Brad Schwartzmier both had two assists.