PITTSBURGH – The Peters Township hockey team’s nightmares at Consol Energy Center continued, and this time the North Allegheny Tigers – specifically senior forward Joe Griffin – were to blame.
Third-seeded North Allegheny upset the top-seeded Indians, 2-0, in the PIHL Penguins Cup Class AAA final late Wednesday night, the third consecutive year Peters Township has lost on the season’s biggest stage.
“It’s impossible to get it out of our memory,” Peters Township coach Rick Tingle said. “That’s the worst part about this whole thing. Bad way to end the year once, let alone three times. It’s tough.”
The game started nearly 70 minutes late. All of that and more was required before Joe Griffin got the game-winner early in the third period for the first of his two goals on this night.
Griffin broke a scoreless tie at 5 minutes, 10 seconds of the third period while North Allegheny was killing a Connor Cash hooking minor.
Peters Township’s Carter Ekberg tried to play the puck close to his own net, and Griffin harassed Ekberg enough to notch his 22nd goal of the season.
“I don’t know if we got a lot of bounces this year,” North Allegheny coach Jim Black said. “To get one in that situation was something I didn’t expect.”
Griffin made it 2-0 at 13:39 by rifling a shot from the right circle that clanked off the right post and made it behind Indians goaltender Brian Baker.
North Allegheny will advance to the Pennsylvania State Championship and play Flyers Cup champion LaSalle Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Ice Works Skating Complex in Ashton.
North Allegheny came into this game as the best defensive team in the league, allowing just 37 goals in 21 games during the regular season, and the Tigers lived up to the hype.
Brad Thornburgh stopped all 20 shots he faced.
“They stack guys in. They were blocking shots,” Tingle said. “Their goalie played a great game. He made the same when he needed to.”
Peters Township captain Trevor Recktenwald had a golden chance early, but Thornburgh turned aside his one-time attempt from the inner edge of the right circle just a few minutes into the game.
The Indians had to kill off two separate minor penalties in the opening period: one on goalie Brian Baker, the other on Evan Opeka.
North Allegheny forced Peters Township to play a physical game in the first period, outshooting the Indians, 8-5, and winning the checking game. But none of those shots turned into solid scoring opportunities.
“We maybe wore them down a little bit,” Black said.
Recktenwald had an even better opportunity at the end of a power play early in the second period, the puck at his feet, the goal wide open … until a North Allegheny player lifted his stick.
Peters Township generated back-to-back chances midway through the second while the teams skated at four aside. Alex DeBolt, however, had both of his shots stopped by Thornburgh.
Baker got into the act by nabbing a wrist shot from Wyatt Glover and then stopping Justin Leonard from point-blank range with about six minutes to go in the second to keep the game scoreless. He completed the trifecta of great saves by using his chest to stop Marty Hubert from in close with less than three minutes to go in the period.
Peters Township dropped a 4-1 decision to Bishop Canevin two years ago, then lost, 2-1, to Bethel Park in the Class AAA final last season. But with a 15-game winning streak heading into this one, Peters Township thought this would be the year to conquer the Penguins’ sparkling building.
“We had a great season,” Tingle said. “Couldn’t put any pucks in the net. Hit the pipe twice in the first two periods. Needed to be ahead of those guys. Soon as they got a goal, which was a little flubber, that was all they needed. We had to open up and just couldn’t get it in.”