Baldwin beats Haverford, wins Class AA state championship

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Saturday, April 24, 2021 | 7:33 PM


It was only fitting the two Class AA hockey heavyweights clashed in the state championship game Saturday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

In one corner was Baldwin, the Penguins Cup and PIHL titlists representing the western part of the state.

In the other corner was Haverford, the Flyers Cup and ICSHL winner representing the east.

Baldwin knocked out the Fords, 4-1, to claim the 2021 Class AA state title. Baldwin had not won the state championship since taking the Class AAA crown in 1988. The Highlanders also win in 1975.

“This is what I dreamt of and was hoping for,” Baldwin coach Justin Glock said. “Hopefully, it does great things for the program. It was a gutsy performance, just like these kids have done all through the playoffs and all year.”

The Highlanders finished with a 21-1 record and have won 41 of 43 games over past two years. They outscored the opposition 103-24 this season, ran through the PIHL playoffs and blanked Franklin Regional, 2-0, in the PIHL championship game.

Baldwin opened the 2020-21 season with 14 consecutive victories and wrapped it up with a seven-game winning streak. The Highlanders captured the Penguins Cup in 1975, 1982, 1988 and 2021, as well as the PIHL Division II title in 2014.

“They are super well-coached, and we couldn’t solve their goaltender,” Haverford coach John Povey said. “They play unbelievable team defense. They block shots and stop any second shots, and their goaltender is really, really good. When they all buy in, that’s a recipe for success.”

The Fords (12-2) racked up 101 goals while allowing only eight this season.

A defensive struggle was expected and took place for about half the state championship game.

The Highlanders were sparked by another brilliant performance by junior goaltender Eddie Nowicki and were led by Robbie Aranos, Nelson Buys, Trevor Belak and Lorenzo Shipley on defense.

Nowicki posted a 17-1 regular-season record with a 1.12 goals-against average. He was 3-0 in the PIHL playoffs with a 1.00 GAA and finished the season with seven shutouts.

“Eddie’s really a special player. He always seems to come up big in the playoffs,” Glock said. “He just seems to be ‘on’ in every game. He made some unbelievable saves today.

“He’s one of the best goalies in the western part of the state.”

Nowicki stopped 27 of 28 shots, several of the spectacular variety. He was beaming after winning the state championship.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Nowicki said. “It’s a goal we set. We set the bar real high. I’ve very proud of my team. It was a great win, a team effort. The defense deserves much of the credit.”

Belak, a junior defenseman, netted his first of two goals at the 10:36 mark of the second period on an unassisted power-play slap shot from the left point.

Belak also scored with 12:59 to go in the third, then added an assist on senior forward captain Keith Reed’s open-net tally with one second remaining. Carson Kress and Lorenzo Shipley were credited with assists on Belak’s second goal.

“It’s amazing,” Belak said outside his team’s jubilant locker room. “I’m actually proud of myself. It’s great for me and great for all of us. We worked hard and the other team worked just as hard as us.”

Logan Picchi sandwiched in a power-play goal between the two Belak scores at the 4:29 mark of the second period. Picchi knocked in the puck while stationed in front of Haverford goaltender Jai Jani. Nelson Buys was awarded an assist on the play.

Haverford avoided a shutout when Mike McGeoch, off a Jagur McClelland assist, connected on a power play at the 5:44 mark of the third period.

“Our guys came out and had a good start,” Povey said. “Our start was great, but the second period hurt us. My guys gave it everything. They’ve been unbelievable all season.

“Two power play goals against us certainly didn’t help our cause. We’ve been a pretty disciplined team all season.”

The Fords pulled Jani in the final two minutes but were unable to solve Nowicki and the Baldwin defense.

“The kids bought in (this season) to some of the defensive stuff we do,” Glock said. “We shut it down in the third period.”

Baldwin started off slowly on offense with just two shots on goal in the first period. Things picked up from there.

Haverford ended up with a 28-18 overall edge in shots on goal.

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