Click below for complete coverage, schedules, brackets and more!
Center had upset on its mind in the first round of the Class A Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League playoffs but seventh-seeded Knoch rode two second-period goals to a 3-2 victory at Valley Sports Complex.
With the victory Knoch advances to the quarterfinal round, where they will take on the No. 2 seed, Kittanning, on March 17 at 7:30 p.m. Kittanning won both matchups during the regular season, but Knoch head coach Joe Honzo says his team will enter the contest a confident group because of the success his squad has had against some of the other heavyweights in Class A.
“We are confident as a team because of the top-four seeds remaining, we have beaten three of the four, including No. 1 Mars,” Honzo said. “We know we have to clamp down even more defensively and we will get our opportunities.”
Honzo’s team will have a chance to pull an upset or two as the playoffs progress if they continue to play defense like they did in the third period on Wednesday, when they limited Center to just four shots.
“Our goaltending and our defense is really the strong point of our club,” he said. “We have only given 46 goals the entire year, which is the second-fewest in the league. If we put up three or four goals we feel like we can win the game.”
Knoch controlled the play early and eventually used that momentum to break a scoreless tie at 6:58 of the opening frame. After a good forecheck by the Knights, Nate Medic had a wide-open shot from the slot denied by Nathan Wormald, but Matt Eshelman was there to clean up the rebound and make it 1-0 Knoch.
“We like how hard we forechecked them tonight,” Honzo said. “We were aggressive on the forecheck and pretty hard on the puck. We thought we created plenty of turnovers.”
Following Eshelman’s goal the Knights had a chance to increase their lead with just over a minute remaining in the first period when Knoch captain Neal Donnelly stole the puck at his own blue line and moved in on the breakaway. Donnelly went backhand to forehand but Wormald stayed with him and made the pad save.
Momentum seemed to shift after that stop, and Center quickly evened the score, 1-1, 4:24 into the second period. Brandon Bishop, who 18 seconds earlier watched his backhander glance of the post after going through practically all five Knoch defenders, tied the game with a shot that beat Ryan Naples to the short side.
Knoch made sure the game wasn’t all square for long as they retook the lead for good just 1:33 later.
|Knoch defeated Center, 3-2, in a tightly-contested Class A PIHL Playoff contest Wednesday night. |
Medic won the battle to a loose puck behind the Center goal. He moved the puck over to Eshelman on the other side of the cage, and he put a pass onto the blade of Eric Egler in the slot. Egler quickly snapped a shot into the net to give Knoch a 2-1 lead.
The Knights added what eventually held up as the game-winning goal with 5:46 to go in the second as Donnelly continued to hammer away at a loose puck in the crease until he sent the rubber across the goal line to make it 3-1 in favor of Knoch.
“Roger Sepich made a great play on the forecheck and they just wrapped it around the boards,” Donnelly said. “He got the puck there and just threw it towards the net. At first I didn’t get it but I just pounded away a couple times and got it in.
“That’s the way it’s going to be. The goals are going to have to be scrappy. Teams are going to play you hard and we have to match it.”
Knoch continued to have the better of the scoring chances throughout the final period but Center was able to make things interesting down the stretch when Bishop tossed a loose puck into the net for his second tally of the night with 4:01 to play in regulation to cut Knoch’s lead to 3-2.
However the Knights held the fort over the final couple minutes and were able to skate away with the team’s first-ever playoff victory.
“Our coach said before the game we were going to need our defense because it was going to be a 3-1, 3-2 game,” Donnelly said. “He was right. We don’t have to score 10 goals to win. We just have to do enough to keep them off the scoreboard.”