Bishop Canevin aims to win elusive title in PIHL Division 2 playoffs

Thursday, February 22, 2024 | 4:57 PM

Sometimes the puck just doesn’t bounce your way. It doesn’t help when that unlucky shot happens on the biggest stage of the season in sudden death.

That uncomfortable memory for Bishop Canevin was embedded after falling in overtime on a “fluky” shot from the point against Ringgold in last year’s PIHL Division 2 championship game.

It was the second consecutive year the Crusaders rolled into the title game and were stopped in their tracks by just one goal.

“It’s heart-breaking,” senior Ryan Saginaw said. “You get so close you can almost taste it. We were one goal away in two games. It could’ve been ours.”

A 17-1 Bishop Canevin program that owns eight Penguins Cup titles in Class 2A with their most recent win in 2016 has yet to translate that success into more rings since moving into a co-op at the D2 level a few years ago.

Those haunting reminders are fueling the desire and desperation for the senior captain to not let it happen again. A championship crown would be the only way to go out for the all-time points leader in Bishop Canevin hockey history.

“We need to finish it out this year, and finally get the job done,” he said. “We’ve had enough chances. Winning a championship comes first. It doesn’t really matter to me to have the points, I’m going out to put my effort out for the team.”

Saginaw has cemented himself as one of the best players not only in Crusaders history, but across the PIHL. In a remarkable season, Saginaw leads the entire league with 48 goals and 73 points. In 57 career games, he has amassed an incredible 99 goals, 72 assists and 171 points.

A jaw-dropping seven-goal outing in the season opener and eight-point effort against Elizabeth Forward at the end of January speak for themselves.

“The way he hunts the puck, he wants it more than everyone else,” coach Eric Glover said. “That’s a trait that’s hard to teach.”

If you want to shadow Saginaw all game, good luck because it provides more of an opportunity for the rest of an already lethal offense that pumps in 7.78 goals per game — also most in the entire league.

“Every time we are out there, we have five solid guys on the ice,” Saginaw said. “We trust each other. We bond as a team on and off the ice. If it’s not in the net from a shot from the point, it’s a nice rebound and someone’s waiting there.”

Flanking Saginaw on the wings are fellow senior Ben Onrejko and junior Aidan Malay who have combined for 22 goals.

When the top line of the Crusaders steps off the ice, the next wave off offense crosses over the boards led by junior Brian Kalanish as he’s lit the lamp 20 times.

“When you have Kalanish as a center on one line and Saginaw on another, that’ll wear you out pretty quick. That’s a lot to handle. You have speed with both and physicality with Brian,” Glover said.

Eion Tiernan, Kalanish’s right winger, provides a dynamic look to Bishop Canevin’s second line. The undersized winger’s shifty approach has led to 20 goals in his senior year.

“The other night, Kalanish lost the puck and 99.9% of hockey players would’ve done a loop. He locked the brakes up, grabbed the puck and kept it going. Kids just don’t do that. His edge work is just insane,” Glover said.

While Bishop Canevin can beat you with skill and speed, the Crusaders are also smartly coached up to control the puck as much as possible.

“We teach to dump the puck back to the closest defenseman and then he passes over to the far defenseman and the four guys change and he passes to the first guy coming on to the ice and that defenseman changes,” Glover said. “Why dump and change when you can control and change?”

What that also does is allows the defense to handle the puck and jump into the play — something the Crusaders like to do.

With the blue-line unit comprised on a nightly basis of four skaters with most notably Mason Glover, Cole Evans, Jack Lyons and Kamil Nurullin, each defender has impacted the game offensively, producing 74 combined points.

“It’s got to be one of the best in high school hockey,” Glover said about his defense.

Year after year, the Crusaders have limited their opposition to very little offense. That trend has carried over as they hold teams to 1.61 goals per game, another D2-leading department.

Goaltender Ayden Worstell has also held up his fair share in the crease as one of the best in Division 2. In 18 games, the senior has compiled a 1.62 goals against average, and a .910 save percentage, along with four shutouts on the season.

“That kid is a stonewall. He’s really playing well,” Glover said.

A team that looked untouchable finally faced its first setback when the Crusaders fell to Neshannock, 6-5, on Feb. 20. Bishop Canevin resides in a familiar spot after entering the last two postseasons with one regulation loss.

“I think taking a loss helps us realize that our game can’t slack at all,” Saginaw said. “It does help take pressure off because staying undefeated puts a lot of weight on a team’s shoulders.”

One small blemish likely won’t derail this Crusaders team that is packed with star power, a stockpile of seniors and solid coaching as they look to finally reverse the course on their championship shortcomings.

“We all came together as a team,” Saginaw said. “This year, we returned a ton of guys. Most of the key components have stayed. We have a really good shot of winning this year; it’s ours to go and take.”


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