Deer Lakes tops division champ Carrick in PIHL D2 playoffs, sets up meeting with Burrell

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Tuesday, March 5, 2024 | 10:01 PM


Something had to give as the Carrick and Deer Lakes hockey teams came into Tuesday’s PIHL Varsity D2 quarterfinal at Ice Castle in Castle Shannon riding multi-game win streaks.

The Cougars won five in a row to close the regular season, and the Lancers entered the playoffs having won four straight.

After 51 minutes, Deer Lakes was the team that kept its victory streak intact.

Senior forward Zach Nacey scored a pair of goals on the power play, and fellow senior forward Giovanni Porco added a short-handed goal as the Lancers rolled past Carrick, 5-1.

Tuesday’s game was a rematch of an Oct. 31 contest at Alpha in Harmarville. The Cougars rallied from a 3-1 second-period deficit in that game to score a 5-3 victory.

But there were no comebacks for Carrick this time around.

“This was the best feeling, especially come playoff time, to come into their barn and stick it to them,” said Nacey, whose two goals were his 11th and 12th of the season.

“We played a great game. The whole team bought in. We all came down here ready to play. It was great.”

Carrick, after that October victory over Deer Lakes, went on to post 13 total wins in the regular season and finish first in the Blue Division.

Deer Lakes placed fourth in the Gold Division with 12 regular-season triumphs.

Win No. 13 for the Lancers was a complete effort, said coach Jonathan Merlo.

“I am so proud of these guys right now,” he said. “It is night-and-day different from what it was in the first half of the year. We’ve come together as a collective unit. It truly showed for 51 minutes tonight.

“I told the guys that I have a big smile on my face. I want them to celebrate tonight, but then we have Burrell for a spot in the championship. They are a very good hockey team, and they will be ready to roll. We have to match their intensity.”

The Lancers and Bucs will meet in the semifinals March 14 at RMU Island Sports Center. Burrell, which beat Deer Lakes twice in Gold Division play, advanced to the semifinals with a win over Morgantown on Monday.

“Deer Lakes and Burrell are a rivalry in most everything,” Nacey said.

Deer Lakes fired off 34 shots at a pair of Carrick goaltenders and held a potent Cougars attack to 20 shots. Carrick was stymied in the third with just three shots.

The Lancers entered the third period down a man but quickly scored as Porco made it 5-1 off an assist from junior forward Ryan Grunden.

Grunden scored his team-best 21st of the season 10:26 into the second period to extend Deer Lakes’ lead to 3-1.

Deer Lakes finished 2 for 7 on the power play, and Carrick was 0 for 5.

Senior Tanner Heidcamp scored his 35th of the year for the Cougars on the first shot of the game for either team 4:55 into the opening period.

But senior Mark Rauenswinter answered for the Lancers a couple of minutes later to tie it 1-1, and Nacey’s first power-play tally with 51 seconds left in the first gave Deer Lakes a lead it didn’t relinquish.

During Carrick’s win streak to close the regular season, it outscored its opponents 46-6.

“We always try to play a defensive-first game,” Nacey said. “After some struggles at the beginning of the season, we really beared down in the defensive zone. I can’t even count how many shots we blocked tonight. That was key for us, especially on the (penalty kill). Obviously, they got their chances on the power play, but we did our thing and played our roles in the defensive zone. We got into the lanes, and that is what you have to do to win games.”

Lancers senior netminder Aaron Haney made 19 saves to earn his 12th win of the season.

Carrick was dealt a blow late in the second period as alternate captain Ivan Manculich went down in a collision along the boards. He had to be helped off the ice, and he didn’t return to the game.

“That was another thing with adversity that we battled through all year in different ways and won games,” Carrick coach Evan Serakowski said. “Tonight, we just couldn’t get the bounces to go our way.”

The Cougars lost their opening game of the PIHL playoffs for the fifth time in the past six seasons. Deer Lakes also eliminated Carrick in the quarterfinals last year.

Despite the loss, Serakowski said he was proud of his players.

“They gave me everything they had all season,” he said. “We just couldn’t buy a goal tonight. That was tough. It was a tough talk with the (six) seniors after the game. But from day one, when people doubted us, they worked hard and worked to prove people wrong. We ended up first in our division. We did a lot of really good things this year.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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