Armstrong dethrones Thomas Jefferson, South Fayette finishes Latrobe in PIHL semifinals

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 | 11:02 PM

There will be a new PIHL Penguins Cup champion in Class 2A.

Thomas Jefferson felt short in its bid for a repeat by suffering a 7-2 loss at the hands of Armstrong in the semifinal round at the RMU Island Sports Center on Tuesday.

The top-seeded River Hawks (18-3-0) recorded their third victory of the season over the fifth-seeded Jaguars (12-9-0) to secure a spot in next Monday’s championship game against No. 2 South Fayette at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township.

South Fayette beat Latrobe 4-1 in the other semifinal Tuesday.

“I give credit to TJ because they’re the defending champs and they’re a great team,” Armstrong coach Eddie Germy III said. “They’re a team that can really skate with us, so I thought that if we just stayed within our game and kept things simple, we’d wear them down. We got that first one and after that, I thought we settled in nicely.

“Now, we’re ready and we’re hungry for next week.”

Armstrong, which won two regular season meetings with TJ, relied on two-goal performances from Owen Check and Caleb Hoffman, while Brayden Landgraf, Logan Hooks and Wyatt Tutak also added goals.

The River Hawks finished with a 29-25 total shot advantage.

“The balance has been there all year,” Germy said. “Our depth has really carried us.”

Andrew Oliver and Kyle Siler contributed goals for the Jaguars.

Oliver’s tally came with less than three minute remaining in the second period, while Siler netted his off assists from Landen Hintemeyer and Lance Smith with 1:15 left in the third.

“I give that team so much credit cause they’re such a hard-working hockey team,” TJ coach John Zeiler said of the River Hawks. “It’s not just a handful of kids; it’s the whole team. When they hit that ice, they work hard, win the 50-50 battles and they come at you.”

The River Hawks ended an evenly played first period with a 1-0 lead thanks to a late unassisted goal by Hoffman, who netted his third of the playoffs when he found a loose puck in the slot and let go of a shot in traffic.

Thomas Jefferson goaltender Aidan Daugherty did all he could to keep it a one-goal game for a majority of the second period.

He made six saves in the opening six minutes before allowing a pair of goals within 31 seconds. Landgraf and Check each scored to give Armstrong a 3-0 lead.

“That was big for us because it gave us some much-needed breathing room against a really good team,” Germy said. “It really allowed us to settle in.”

After Oliver’s late tally cut TJ’s deficit to two, Armstrong struck again with under a minute remaining.

Check took a slick feed from Jameson Yackmack and buried a shot past Daugherty for a power play goal and a 4-1 lead heading into the third.

Daugherty finished with 22 saves in the loss.

“He played one of his best games,” Zeiler said. “He gave us a chance to go up in the first period and we didn’t capitalize.”

TJ hoped to replicate the same magic it showed in last year’s title game when it erased a four-goal third-period deficit to claim a 6-5 win in overtime against Franklin Regional.

Hoffman quickly diminished TJ’s hopes of a comeback when he took a pass from Jason Rullo and buried his second goal of the night to make it a four-goal lead with 12:49 to go in the third.

Hooks’ goal came with under 10 minutes left, as he scored on a rebound chance after Daugherty had made a save on the initial shot by Landgraf, who finished with a team-high three points. Jake Graff added one of his two assists on the night.

Tutak capped Armstrong’s scoring barrage with a goal from the right circle at the 2:19 mark in the final stanza.

“We knew there was a chance, but we just couldn’t get that one to get back in it,” Zeiler said. “It’s not easy to come back from that type of deficit, especially against a talented team like that.”

Armstrong’s offensive onslaught was complemented by the play of Dylan Morris in net.

He finished with 23 saves to help guide the River Hawks to the title game.

“He’s been big for us all year,” Germy said of Morris, who earned the team’s player of the game belt. “If things break down, we have full confidence that he’s going to bail us out every time.”

South Fayette 4, Latrobe 1

Everyone was asking if sixth-seeded Latrobe could capitalize on the most significant rebound in PIHL history after its first-round loss turned into a win when Bishop McCourt was forced to forfeit a 2-1 overtime victory.

Early shots and hits belonged to Latrobe, which looked to make things different for a No. 2 South Fayette team that had beaten them twice in one-goal games in the regular season.

“That first period was exactly what we wanted,” said Latrobe coach Josh Werner.

Behind 23 saves from Allen Schraeder, the Lions slammed the door shut.

After surrendering the first goal, South Fayette (17-3-2) scored four consecutive times to take a 4-1 victory and advance to the PIHL’s Class 2A Penguins Cup championship game.

“We knew we’re going to play a good, difficult team,” said Lions head coach Matt Schwartz. “Given the circumstances of what happened and how they got a new lease on life.”

South Fayette had three chances on the power play early in the first period and couldn’t capitalize. Peyton Myers for Latrobe got the best opportunity on a breakaway but couldn’t gather the puck for a shot.

“They’ve got a good power play. It was a lot of game planning,” Werner said. “We saw some things on film we could take advantage of, which definitely paid off.”

In the second, Latrobe got its first power play, and it was a good one with multiple deflection tries. South Fayette’s Tyler Brandebura had a big blocked shot.

Latrobe struck first with a wrist shot from Jacob Hannah, assisted by Fletcher Harvey and Nik Manolakos, to open the scoring at 5:32 in the second period.

“Getting that first one was important as well,” Werner said.

South Fayette continued working and managed to strike with two goals in the second period. Wes Schwarzmiller slammed home a rebound off a Brady Fleck shot from the point at 9:19 to tie the score and a Trevor Dalessandro scored, assisted by Robert Chiappetta and Dylan Walsh, with 17 seconds remaining in the period.

“We knew we were coming back no matter what,” said Schwarzmiller, who scored two goals.

In the third period, Latrobe got some chances but could not capitalize as South Fayette continued its dominance in the second half of the game.

After Reid West was called for hooking, South Fayette went on the power play for the fourth time. The Lions finally converted. Dalessandro got his second of the night off a rebound from Brayden Imler’s shot off of J.M Krajc’s chest protector.

“We tried to control (on earlier power plays) and wait for our shot,” said Dalessandro. “We knew we had to get shots on the net and pepper the goalie.”

Latrobe pulled their goaltender Krajc, who made 28 saves, with four minutes left, but Schwarzmiller potted his second into the open net a minute later to seal it.

“We have the opportunity that no team from South Fayette has done before,” said Schwartz. “It’s one step closer and 51 minutes to accomplish our goal.”

Tribune-Review contributing writer Tyler Polk contributed.

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