Kittanning has an interesting problem – their ’Cats are acting like dogs, underdogs that is.
And, they love every minute of it.
Kittanning produced yet another upset Tuesday night as the Wildcats knocked off Bishop Canevin, 6-4, in a PIHL 84 Lumber Penguins Cup Championship Series Class AA semifinal at the Ice Castle Arena.
“It’s a huge win. It came down to the final minute and those are the kinds of games I love,” Kittanning junior goalie Joseph Mercurio said. “It could have gone either way, but I think the factor that really helped us tremendously was the crowd. They wouldn’t stay quiet and that’s what I love about them. We have one of the best crowds around.”
The Kittanning crowd will get a chance to cheer on their Wildcats (15-5-4) at Mellon Arena on March 25 at 3 p.m. when they take on Pine-Richland (20-1-2) for the Penguins Cup championship.
“We’ve been saying this the whole trip through the playoffs, it doesn’t matter who we play or who we see, we just have to go out and play our best game,” Kittanning coach Jon Yackmack said. “If we go out and play our best game, we have a shot.”
So far, it’s been a great ride for Kittanning. The Wildcats are more about checking and hustling than beautifully-choreographed plays and highlight-reel goals. None of their players is among the top 10 in PIHL Class AA scoring and only two – John Ford and Lee Heilman – are in the top 20.
Yet, they keep managing to win big games. Kittanning has won its last nine games, including a 6-2 win over Moon to start the playoffs and a 5-4 overtime upset of Montour in the quarterfinals.
“The only superstar around here is [Pittsburgh’s] Mario Lemieux. Now that he’s gone, it’s Sidney Crosby,” Yackmack said. “These guys play well together. They are solid. They play for each other and that’s the good thing about these guys.”
Josh Daley got the Crusaders (15-5-2) on the scoreboard first when he scored a goal 3:06 into the game.
However, the Wildcats responded with three-straight tallies. Evan Blodgett tied it at 1-1 with 4:07 to play in the first. Nick Troup had a goal five minutes into the second period and John Ford found the back of the net with 56 seconds remaining in the period.
Bishop Canevin rallied, though, in the third. The Crusaders scored two goals in 38 seconds to know the game at 3-all. Daley beat Mercurio 39 seconds into the third and Mike Darnley followed quickly.
“They’ve always played well against us. They sure don’t make it easy,” Yackmack said. “You go into the third with a couple-goal lead and the worst thing you want is for them to score a goal right away. Of course, they get two.
“We had everything going against us there, but I have been saying the past 8-10 games, these guys have really come together as a team. Any time someone is let down, another person picks it up and that’s what happened,” he continued. “That’s what they’ve been good at doing. They will put themselves in a bad situation and then find a way to work themselves out of it. They have been notorious for that and of course you don’t want it that way.”
The Wildcats responded twice in the third period. Ethan Zimmerman gave Kittanning a 4-3 lead 2:12 after Darnley’s goal.
Bishop Canevin’s Jason Rosario evened the game once again. His goal with 10:41 to play made it a 4-4 game.
However, Colin McKelvey’s slap-shot trickled into the net on the power play with 4:20 remaining to put the Wildcats up, 5-4. Justin Kovach added an empty-net goal to seal the contest with 48 seconds to go.“When they scored, we fought back and got another goal. We’re a battling team,” said Mercurio, who finished with 35 saves. “It shows how we have heart. We can give up those kinds of goals, but we do not lose our heads. In close games like this and big games like this, we do not lose our composure. That was a big win for us.”
Heilman, Blodgett and Kovatch all had two assists for Kittanning. Ethan Febinger, Ford and Troup all had assists.
D.J. Zeh had two assists for Bishop Canevin. Kevin Pawlos, Cam Zappi and Daley added helpers.
Complete coverage of the 84 Lumber PIHL Penguins Cup Championship Series