By Lance Lysowski
NEVILLE ISLAND – It did not take long for Peters Township’s hockey team to show Penn Trafford why depth matters in high school hockey.
Using four lines of forwards, the Indians outshot and outworked the Warriors to a 6-1 PIHL semifinal victory at Robert Morris University’s Island Sports Center.
Entering the game, Peters Township head coach Rick Tingle gave Penn Trafford credit as one of the top upcoming programs in the PIHL.
Behind the play of a strong offensive lineup, the Warriors overcame a slump at the end of the regular season to make it to the semifinals.
Unfortunately for Penn Trafford, Indians senior forward Jonathan Dagnal ensured the Warriors’ playoff run would come to an end.
Dagnal scored two goals in a 30-second span just three minutes into the first period and added a goal in the third period to complete the hat trick to send the Indians into the PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup Championship Monday at Consol Energy Center against rival Bethel Park.
Dagnal’s line mates, Adam Alavi and Samuel Barnes, combined for four assists for the Indians.
“It wasn’t just our first line that played well,” Tingle said. “The guys on the other three lines make it possible for Dagnal and those guys to get a rest and be able to do what they are good at.”
Despite scoring two goals on its first two shots, Peters Township struggled in the opening period; allowing 13 shots on goal and committing turnovers in the neutral zone. Luckily for the Indians, senior goaltender Brian Baker was ready. Baker recorded 35 saves and allowed just one goal late in the second period to a Penn Trafford team that has been on a roll during the PIHL playoffs.
“(Brian) has been big for us,” Tingle said. “He’s done really well and he always has. Tonight is what I always expect out of him and it makes a big difference.”
Penn Trafford continued its quick play on both ends of the ice in the second period before a tripping penalty cost the Warriors. Less than three minutes into the second period, Peters Township junior defenseman Carter Ekberg received a pass from Dagnal and fired a slap shot into the net for a power play goal and a 3-0.
The Indians extended their advantage less than 10 minutes later when junior forward Gavin Rebholz stuffed his own rebound past Warriors goalie Eric Phelps for a four-goal Peters Township lead.
Penn Trafford scored with under a minute remaining in the second period when Cameron Williams won a battle for a loose puck in front of the net, cutting the lead to 4-1.
“I had a little bit of confidence after that fourth goal, but you never want to let one up against a good team heading into the third period,” Tingle said. “When they got one at the end, even though it just snuck in, I was afraid we gave them a little momentum.”
Dagnal helped ease his coach’s worries less than two minutes into the third period when he completed the hat trick on a one-timer from Alavi and Ekberg to make the game 5-1. Matt Amelio added a goal with three minutes left in the game to propel the Indians to the championship game.
While the Indians were outshot, 36-34, cleaning up their play in the neutral zone and the play of their top line has them heading to the Penguins Cup one year after losing to State College in the PIHL semifinals.
The Indians are familiar with division rival Bethel Park. The two split their two-game series during the regular season and the Blackhawks defeated Pine-Richland Wednesday night to advance to the title game.
“They are well-coached, they have great players and they are going to be tough to match up with,” Tingle said. “They have been a hot team for a while and we’ll have to be ready to play.”