Burrell ready for 3rd clash with pesky Ringgold, this time in finals

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Sunday, March 17, 2019 | 8:27 PM


From the beginning of the season, the Burrell hockey team made no secret that its goal is to win the school’s first PIHL title. Standing in the way is one final hurdle.

That hurdle is a Ringgold team that arguably has played the Bucs the toughest since they restarted the program three years ago.

The Bucs and Rams face off in the Division II finals at 6 p.m. Monday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

It’s the second consecutive finals appearance for Burrell (21-1), and Ringgold (18-4) is seeking a championship for the first time since 2010.

In the last three years, only two teams have beaten Burrell multiple times. One of them is Ringgold, and the other one, Moon, is no longer in the classification.

Burrell swept the regular season series this year with 4-2 and 7-6 wins, but neither game was a picnic.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Bucs coach Max Rickard said. “They’re always a tough team to play. They’re a little bit of a deeper team than most in this division. They have a few really talented players and a few guys that can really get under our players’ skin. They can roll three solid lines that can put the puck in the net at any time. We’re going to have to be really on our game defensively on Monday.”

Burrell has a 4-2 record against the Rams since 2016, but all six games have been decided by two goals or fewer.

The Bucs had their first varsity game of this era against Ringgold on Oct. 3, 2016, and won 4-2.

Ringgold swept the Bucs in the regular season a season ago, but Burrell got its revenge in the semifinals with a 6-4 win.

The Bucs were tied with Ringgold after two periods in the first meeting this season before Tyler Stewart scored twice in the third in a 4-2 win. In the rematch, Ringgold jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period before Burrell rallied.

Ringgold led in both games at one point, which was something that didn’t happen much for an opponent against Burrell this season. Aside from Ringgold, the only times the Bucs trailed were in the lone loss this season, 6-2 to Connellsville, and briefly against Central Valley in a game they won 7-6.

A couple of keys to the game for Rickard are playing sound defense and not being lured into shoving matches that lead to trips to the penalty box.

The latter was a bit of an issue once the Bucs had seized command in the third period of Monday’s semifinal against Connellsville. The Falcons targeted Stewart and Gio Palombo. They hit Palombo from behind twice, and a Connellsville player later tackled him from behind near the Bucs’ bench. Palombo ended up receiving a 10-minute misconduct for venting his frustration to an official.

If similar situations arise Monday, Rickard said they can’t retaliate.

“I think part of Ringgold’s game plan will be to try to get under our skin and try to get us to take penalties, and that’s something that we can’t do,” Rickard said. “We have to stay level-headed and stay away from all the stuff after the whistles and during game play.”

Stewart, who had a 50-goal regular season, has continued his scoring prowess in the postseason with seven goals. Palombo has a trio of goals and assists, and Dylan Zelonka has three goals and five assists.

“I think the first two games in the playoffs this year, we’ve all played our parts and know our roles,” Stewart said. “If we stick to that game plan and don’t be selfish, like taking retaliatory penalties, then I believe we will be fine.”

Justin Day led Ringgold with 22 goals and 42 points in the regular season and has three assists in the playoffs. Noah Schroder is another 40-point scorer for the Rams, and he has a pair of goals in the playoffs. Bradley Budjos has been a difference maker for the Rams in the postseason with five goals after scoring 14 in the regular season.

Rickard said they have to be ready for anything in a championship game, but most importantly they have to be ready to play “Burrell hockey.”

“It all starts in our own zone moving forward,” Rickard said. “We have enough firepower on the offensive side that we don’t need to worry about scoring goals. We need to worry about stopping them.”

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