The Mount Lebanon hockey team is used to dominance.
After all, the Blue Devils outscored their opponents 167-16 heading into Saturday’s PIHL 84 Lumber Penguins Cup Class AAA championship game at Mellon Arena.
However, Mount Lebanon has become pretty good at comebacks, too.
The Blue Devils rallied from a 1-0 deficit to post a 3-1 victory over North Allegheny to claim their second Penguins Cup in three seasons.
“We don’t feel we played really well,” Mount Lebanon coach Paul Taibi said. “That’s no knock against North Allegheny, but we didn’t feel we played our best game.”
Mount Lebanon (25-0) moves on to face Flyers Cup champion Cardinal O’Hara in the state championship game April 8 at the RMU Island Sports Center on Neville Island.
“That’s been our goal from the beginning of the season – to win a state championship,” said junior forward Sean McDermott. “We’re just one step closer. Hopefully, we can accomplish that in two weeks.”
For the second-straight game, the Blue Devils faced a deficit after not trailing in nearly four months. Bethel Park took a 2-1 lead over Mount Lebanon in a semifinal contest on March 15. It was the first time the Blue Devils trailed in PIHL play since Nov. 14.
On Saturday, Mount Lebanon faced another deficit as Joe Camut got North Allegheny on the scoreboard first. He backhanded a rebound past Matt Vaughan with 8:27 left in the opening period.
“I don’t ever want to be playing from behind again,” Taibi said with a laugh. “Actually, the kids keep confident and we keep reminding them there’s 45 minutes in the game. It didn’t take us long to get even again and that was a big play.”
Mount Lebanon retaliated 3:19 later when James Cichra snuck a shot past Max Richards to knot the game at 1-all.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Vaughan said. “Nothing is a walk in the park when you’re in the playoffs. It’s got to be unbelievably hard for North Allegheny to come here two years in a row and come away with the silver. I feel for them.”
The Blue Devils’ offense struggled to generate much for the rest of the first period and all of the second. Meanwhile, their defense was sharp.
“One thing consistent with this team is that we play defense,” Taibi said. “As good as North Allegheny is, they only got nine shots for the entire game and they had five power plays. I have to give my team defense and goaltending a lot of credit.
“It was frustrating because it seemed like the kids weren’t moving their feet and making passes,” he continued. “Our passing was atrocious. If you don’t make good passes, you’re not going to do anything to open up the game. We kept working until we got one in there.”
The Blue Devils finally beat Richards again with 7:32 left in the game when McDermott scored. He knocked in his own rebound during a scrum in front of the net. Jesse Root had the assist.
“It was a great play by Jesse Root to get it to the middle and all I really had to do was bank in the rebound. It’s just great teamwork and I was just hoping that one was going to sneak by the post,” McDermott said. “We knew it was going to be a close game the whole time and we knew we had to just keep fighting through the hits, get to the net and put some home. It took a while, but in the third period we got that.
“That’s a great feeling to get up 2-1 like that. We knew we still had to keep fighting and keep playing, but that definitely was a big boost for us.”
Brandon Dornish scored a power-play with 4:21 to go to give Mount Lebanon a 3-1 lead. Shane Ferguson sent a crisp diagonal pass across the ice and Dornish fired it into the net.
“Dornish had a penalty in the second period and I got him out of that,” Vaughan said. “Then, he bailed me out with his goal. That meant a lot.”
The Blue Devils’ high-scoring trio of Josh Mandic, Tyler Murovich and Ferguson, a son of former Penguin George Ferguson, produced 190 points in the regular season. However, the three were limited to just Ferguson’s assist on Saturday. Other Mount Lebanon players stepped up, though.
“Yes they did, but we have the type of team that has been able to do that all year,” Taibi said. “So, it’s not a surprise to me, maybe to everyone else here.”