Cook, Ringgold edge No. 1 Burrell to claim PIHL Division II championship
Monday, March 18, 2019 | 10:33 PM
With the score tied in the third period, Burrell had the ice tilted in its favor and fired a bunch of shots on goal, but Ringgold goalie Evan Cook answered each time.
When the Rams finally got some sustained pressure late in the period, Justin Day made sure it would be their night.
Day slipped a wrist shot through a couple players and past a screened Andrew Burkett with four minutes remaining and the No. 3 Rams held on to upset top-seeded Burrell, 4-3, in the PIHL Division II finals Monday at UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.
Day’s late tally and a superlative 33-save effort from Cook were enough to propel Ringgold (19-4) to its first PIHL title since 2010 and deny Burrell (21-2) its first title.
“I can’t even describe how I feel right now,” Ringgold coach Rick Kalinowski said. “It’s the greatest thing and this is a great group. It’s my life’s work. I’ve been doing this for 20 years on and off, coaching high school and amateurs.”
The Bucs lost in the PIHL final for the second year in a row. They had their chances to take the lead in the third and outshot the Rams, 13-7, but couldn’t solve Cook.
Early in the third, Cook stretched all the way across the crease to rob Logan Schoepf from point blank range on a rebound and had a stop on Tyler Stewart on a partial breakaway.
Stewart also had opportunity to put Burrell ahead with a penalty shot attempt late in the second, but the puck rolled off his stick right when we went to shoot it.
“We thought we controlled the third period, but hockey’s a two-way sport,” Burrell coach Max Rickard said. “Defense comes first. You have to stop the puck before you can put the puck in the net. We lapsed a few times. You have to play a two-way game every shift, and there were a couple times where we didn’t.”
Another key save from Cook came at the 10-minute mark of the second when he sprawled out and made a Dominik Hasek-like save on his back to stop Stewart, who was in alone on a breakaway. Bradley Budjos ended up with the puck and went the other way on a breakaway and scored to put Ringgold in front 3-1.
“If it wasn’t for Evan we lose all day long,” Kalinowski said. “They had 36 shots on us and for him to stop 33 … he played unbelievable.”
Rickard said one of the keys coming into the game was that Ringgold was going to try and get under their skin, and that came to fruition.
In the first period and a half, Ringgold finished checks and goaded Burrell into to some extracurricular activities post-whistle that slowed the game down and sent a parade of players to the penalty box.
Stewart and Gio Palombo, Burrell’s top two scorers, spent some time in the box in the first.
Ringgold’s Noah Schroeder opened the scoring halfway through the first, but Dylan Zelonka answered a minute later.
Schroeder scored again in the final minute after a beautiful saucer pass from Evan Eberlein past two defenders set him up alone in front of the net, making it 2-1 Ringgold at the end of the first.
“The first thing we said to them in the locker room before the game was that they were going to try and get under our skin, and that’s all they needed to do to get us off our game,” Rickard said. “Sure enough the first period and a half they were able to do that. It calmed down after that, but that’s all they needed.
“In a game like this you want to get the lead first and make them play from behind, but unfortunately we weren’t able to do that.”
Gio Palombo and Zelonka scored goals a little over a minute apart in the second to tie the game at 3-3.
Zelonka finished with two goals and Burkett made 30 saves in goal.
Stewart, who came into the game with 57 goals, was held off the goal sheet for only the third time in 22 games. He had an assist on Zelonka’s second goal.
Cook stopped Stewart a half-dozen times and denied three breakaways.
“We kept putting bodies on him and frustrated him, but Tyler’s a great kid,” Kalinowski said. “After the game I told him good luck at nationals and good luck with the (Johnstown) Tomahawks next year. He’s going to be a great player for them.”
The Bucs will now turn their focus to playing in one last tournament together, the USA Hockey Nationals High School Championships in Cleveland next weekend.
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer