Burrell beats Connellsville, headed to PIHL final

By: Jerin Steele
Monday, March 11, 2019 | 11:45 PM

Tyler Stewart and Gio Palombo’s chemistry on the ice started on the pavement when they played street hockey together in their youth.

They formed a friendship and a keen sense of where each other is going to be when they play together, and they showed it Monday in helping Burrell advance to the PIHL Division II finals for the second consecutive season.

Stewart and Palombo scored two goals apiece to the lead the top-seeded Bucs past No. 4 Connellsville, 5-2, in the semifinals Monday at RMU Island Sports Center.

Burrell (21-1) will vie for its first PIHL title when it faces either Neshannock or Ringgold in the Division II final, 6 p.m. Monday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. Connellsville finished 16-4.

Fresh off helping Esmark Stars qualify for the USA Hockey Nationals at the Mid-Am finals in Cleveland over the weekend, Stewart and Palombo factored in on three of Burrell’s four goals in the second period.

“Our chemistry from playing together this weekend just carried over into this game, and we were able to keep it going and score some goals,” Stewart said.

Stewart scored twice in 40 seconds in the second to break the game open. The first goal came during a delayed penalty, when Palombo shot the puck and the rebound ricocheted to Stewart, who put it home. Then while on the power play, the Bucs had a nifty passing play between Palombo and Dylan Zelonka that set up Stewart, who skated in front and roofed a backhand past Connellsville goalie Sebastian Skarzenski.

Palombo joined the team in October after talking with Stewart and is happy with how everything has worked out.

“This has been a great experience,” Palombo said. “Our team is connected on so many levels. I’ve played with (Stewart) the last few years, and I’ve played with Zelonka and (Burrell defensemen) Bryce Schueler and Nate Smith. We just have a lot of chemistry. The other guys I’ve never met before were very receptive and supportive.”

Palombo opened the scoring on a rebound late in the first period after Skarzenski withstood a barrage of shots from the Bucs. Burrell outshot the Falcons, 15-7, in the period.

“We probably controlled 13 of the 17 minutes in that first period,” Bucs coach Max Rickard said. “Our breakout was doing really well, and our neutral zone passing was top-notch. I think that really got it started for us.”

Zelonka had an incredible individual effort to score a short-handed goal that made it 2-0 15 seconds into the second.

Travis Sipple scored off a nice pass from Gregory Hensh near the halfway mark of the second to get Connellsville within 3-2 before Stewart’s two goals widened the gap heading into the third.

Palombo got caught up in a scrum with Connellsville’s Timothy Pisula late in the third, when the game turned chippy. Palombo was given a 10-minute misconduct for arguing with an official. The teams combined for 54 penalty minutes, 32 of them in the third period.

“They capitalized on their chances, and we didn’t,” Connellsville coach Ray Brown said. “That’s hockey. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.”

Drew Burkett had a solid game in net and made a couple of top-notch saves during the penalty kill that kept Burrell’s cushion. Burkett finished with 26 saves.

“This was probably one of the better games that Drew had in the second semester,” Rickard said. “He stood on his head at times, and he made the routine saves he needed to make.”

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