It started with a close contest and ended with a shutout Monday night as the first half of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League semifinal round got under way at Mellon Arena.
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With their victories, Class A’s Serra Catholic, Class AA’s Greater Latrobe and Class AAA’s Seneca Valley will proceed to the finals of the 84 Lumber Penguins Cup Championship Series, slated for March 27 at Mellon Arena after the Pittsburgh Penguins play the Philadelphia Flyers at 1 p.m.
Led by two goals and two assists from senior forward Erik Manetta, the third-seeded Serra Catholic Eagles pulled off a minor upset over the second-seeded Kittanning Wildcats, 5-3, in the opening game of the night. Manetta said his team was nervous going into the contest since they were defeated in last year’s tournament.
“This year, we have a whole new team,” Manetta said. “We all wanted to be here as a team and play. I had a better feeling than last year, and I knew we could do it.”
Eagles junior goaltender Garrett Hudson also said that he had last year’s game on his mind going into the matchup against the Wildcats.
“We wanted to reverse the curse,” Hudson said. “I feel so good right now. I’m just trying to get into the zone. We all do this for each other. They were getting in front of me and blocking shots. Every time that the puck got in our zone, they were clearing it.”
Serra Catholic junior Jarrett Ruchka notched the first goal of the game at 3:14 into the first period after Manetta sent the puck to Ruchka from the bottom of the near circle. Ruchka then shot the puck into the net from the top crease to score the power-play goal.
Kittanning senior Jurgen Koster responded 29 seconds later after getting a breakaway and sending the puck into the upper right shelf to tie the game, 1-1.
Ruchka then picked up another point by assisting sophomore Garner Kraemer’s goal 9:10 into the period. He skated across the blue line near the far boards before sending the puck to Kraemer in the slot. Kraemer went upstairs with a wrist shot to give Serra Catholic the lead, 2-1.
In the opening minutes of the second period, Kittanning bounced back with two goals by junior Jake Enders and Koster.
Serra Catholic did not sit tight for long, though, tying up the game, 3-3, after Manetta skated across the blue line on a breakaway and scored 2:48 into the period.
Eagles sophomore Robert Kendi, Jr. then notched a big power-play goal for his team 6:58 into the period after firing the puck into the net from the midpoint during a five-on-three two-man advantage.
|Serra Catholic's Robert Kendi, Jr. breaks the puck out of his own end during the third period of the Eagles' 5-3 victory over Kittanning. |
Manetta then cashed in on the ensuing five-on-four power play with his second goal of the night by tapping the puck into the net from the right side of the crease.
No more tallies were added to the scoreboard during the third period, and the Eagles walked away with a 5-3 victory over the Wildcats.
Next up, the Peters Township Indians faced off against the Greater Latrobe Wildcats, the two-time defending Penguins Cup and state champions. With two goals each from freshman Joshua Singley and senior Jayson Angus, the Wildcats came out victorious against the Indians in the end, 7-2.
Singley said that although most of the freshmen players felt a bit nervous leading up to the start of the game, the team’s veterans helped to calm their nerves in the minutes leading up to the game.
“I was really nervous playing the game, but my coaches helped me out,” Singley said. “It felt great to win this game, 7-2. I’m really excited.”
Angus acknowledged that despite the team’s jitters going into the matchup, the players were all anticipating getting onto the ice at Mellon Arena.
“It’s a chance to play here where (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin and all of those guys play,” he said. “This is their building. It’s fun to come here and try to do your thing out there. It’s been a great ride. A lot of my teammates mean a lot to me, and they’ve helped me in each and every way. I’m just glad to be a part of this team and be able to contribute.”
The first period started off with a bang as Greater Latrobe senior Cody Ray notched the first goal of the game from the slot 1:30 into the period. The Wildcats then gave the Indians a power play after picking up a two-minute roughing penalty, allowing Peters Township junior Matt Lison to tie the game, 1-1, just 1:20 later.
But Greater Latrobe bounced back with a vengeance after senior Dillon Hunter, freshman Noah Batis and Singley scored three more goals at 8:44, 8:19 and 9:52 respectively. The first period ended with Greater Latrobe leading the way, 4-1.
Peters Township sophomore Cole Snyder got his team back in the game early in the second period after grabbing a rebound and putting it past Greater Latrobe freshman goaltender Shane Brudnok.
The Wildcats’ Singley responded by notching his second goal of the game at the right side of the crease before his teammate, Angus, followed suit and scored another goal from the bottom of the near circle to keep the Wildcats in the lead, 6-2.
Greater Latrobe continued on their scoring mission just 43 seconds into the start of the third period when Angus fired a shot into the upper right shelf from the near circle to score his second goal of the game. After the buzzer sounded in the third period, the Wildcats had dominated the Indians, 7-2.
|Latrobe advanced to their third-straight 84 Lumber Penguins Cup Championship Series final with a 7-2 victory. |
But it was the last game of the night between the Upper St. Clair Panthers and Seneca Valley Raiders that caused most fans to drop their jaws. Thanks to five goals all scored by Seneca Valley senior Brandon Platt, the Raiders shut down the Panthers, 5-0.
Platt, who wears No. 86 in honor of Jaromir Jagr (he did not want to pick the same number as Jagr, so he chose to wear No. 68 backwards), said that he was both excited and surprised to score all of the goals in the game.
“I feel great now,” Platt said. “Obviously, I wasn’t thinking that I was going to wake up and score five goals. After the first one, I just knew that we had to get another one quick. And after the second one, I knew that we needed another one quick. We just kept rolling from there. The boys really helped me out, and it was a team effort. It wasn’t just me.”
Platt scored his first goal of the game 9:57 into the first period after firing a slap shot from the top of the far circle into the net for the unassisted tally. Senior Sean Sokolowski assisted his next goal at 14:19 after making a pass to Platt in the slot from the near circle. The first period ended with the Raiders leading the game, 2-0.
It barely took any time for Platt to step up again and get the hat trick 1:14 into the second period. After receiving a pass from senior captain Tyler Mesisca, Platt fired the puck into the net from the right side of the crease.
It took Platt just 11 less seconds at the beginning of the third period to notch his fourth goal of the game. Assisted by senior Logan Pfeffer and Mesisca, Platt shot the puck from the far circle past the goaltender’s right pad.
Platt finished off his impressive night late the period after Mesisca skated down the ice alongside the near boards, setting up Platt for a one-timer at the left side of the crease for the senior’s fifth goal of the game. With the crowd at their feet during the final minute of the game, the Raiders skated away victorious, 5-0.
Seneca Valley goaltender Ryan Schutte said that he was excited to get the shutout in Mellon Arena and is looking forward to playing in the finals on Saturday.
“It felt great,” Schutte said. “I didn’t get many shots going into the third, so I wasn’t really feeling all that warm. But then I just came out and got it.”