Defense, goaltending key Baldwin’s run to state hockey championship

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Sunday, May 2, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Baldwin’s varsity hockey team recently wrapped up an amazing two-year run with an appearance in the state championship game at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

The Highlanders advanced to the state finals by winning the PIHL Class 2A Penguins Cup with a 2-0 victory over Franklin Regional on April 20.

Baldwin then skated past the Haverford Fords, 4-1, in the state championship game to finish with a 21-1 record — after posting a 19-1 mark in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.

With the impressive victory against Flyers Cup and ICSHL winner Haverford, the Highlanders were able finish the run that was cut short last year in the PIHL finals.

“I’m very proud of the boys. They have been focused on our team goals,” Baldwin coach Justin Glock said.

“As has every high school hockey team in Pennsylvania, we dealt with pandemic obstacles trying to stay healthy and trying to win hockey games. It wasn’t a normal season for the second year in a row. So for the team to get back to the Pens Cup and eventually win it is an incredible accomplishment.

“Everyone on the team has an important role to play whether in practice, off the ice or in a game. We’ve needed everyone focused on the same goal, and we’ve had that this year. Our team doesn’t care who scores as long as we win.”

The Highlanders won, and won often. They opened the season with 14 consecutive victories in a span stretching from Nov. 2 to March 8, and ended it on a seven-game winning streak.

“They are super well-coached and we couldn’t solve their goaltender,” Haverford coach John Povey said. “They play unbelievable team defense, they block shots and stop any second shots, and their goaltender is really, really good. When they all buy in, that’s a recipe for success.”

One of the the purple-and-white catalysts this year, indeed, was junior goaltender Eddie Nowicki, who allowed only 20 regular-season goals (in 18 games) and four postseason scores (in four games).

“Obviously, I am super excited about winning the Pens Cup (and state title),” Nowicki said. “This is something I will remember for the rest of my life. It truly was an awesome experience, and I’m super glad I got to go through it with this group of guys.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better from my team. They’ve had to play solid games in front of me for us to win. They did a great job with tying sticks up in front and making sure I could see all the shots and clearing rebounds up for me.”

Nowicki posted a 17-1 regular-season record with a 1.12 goals-against average and .960 save percentage. He was 3-0 in the PIHL playoffs with a 1.00 GAA and .961 save percentage, and finished the year with six shutouts. He also gave up just one goal in eight games. Overall, he logged 598 saves on 622 shots.

“Eddie has been incredible all season long,” Glock said. “First and foremost, he’s a mature and humble person given all of his talent. His teammates love him and that’s because he makes all of us look good. His stats speak for themselves. He had five shutouts in the regular season and has been fantastic in the playoffs.

“Eddie’s really a special player. He always seems to come up big in the playoffs. He just seems to be ‘on’ in every game. He made some unbelievable saves (against Haverford). He’s one of the best goalies in the western part of the state.”

Nowicki turned back 29 shots against Franklin Regional to log his sixth shutout. Against Haverford, he surrendered one goal on a power play and stopped 27 of 28 shots.

“I was extremely proud with my team’s performance,” Nowicki said. “This year was obviously much different from years past with covid (restrictions). All year, I was able to rely on my team to score a big goal when it was needed and always had confidence in them, and they knew they could rely on me when they needed it in any game.

“And to top it off, I feel they really stepped it up in the playoffs. They obviously put up a lot of goals for me and that gave me more confidence. Going back to last year, a lot of the skaters were on the team and we were not able to play in the Pens Cup, and I feel like that really gave us the extra motivation to win it this year.”

Nowicki has been playing ice hockey since the fifth grade, always as a goaltender. He also has participated in deck hockey in his earlier days.

“Once I transitioned into ice hockey I tried skating out a few times and was not a fan of it,” Nowicki said. “Then I tried goaltending and it just clicked with me. I fell in love with goaltending and the sport and have played since.”

Nowicki said his favorite NHL goalie is Whitehall native John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks. Gibson graduated from St. Gabriel’s and attended Baldwin for one year.

“It is extremely cool to see someone who grew up in the same area as you to be playing in the NHL,” Nowicki said, “and it is cool to know he went to the same school as you.”

Baldwin junior defenseman Trevor Belak registered two goals and one assist against Haverford, and was complemented offensively by forwards Logan Picchi and Keith Reed with one goal apiece. Picchi’s proved to be the game-winner.

Defensemen Nelson Buys and Lorenzo Shipley, forward Carson Kress and Belak were credited with assists.

Against Franklin Regional, senior forward Zach Borman peppered in the game-winning goal on an assist from Buys. Kress netted an insurance goal.

Through it all, Nowicki was flanked by a strong defensive corps spearheaded by senior Robbie Aranos, Buys, Belak and Shipley.

“This team has been in close games all year and has the knack for finding ways to win,” Glock said. “I stressed to them that they’re always going to face adversity in the playoffs and these kids embraced it and found ways to win games.

“Penn-Trafford, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Regional gave us all we could handle. Haverford has a lot of team speed and beat all of their (previous) playoff opponents convincingly. It’s a credit to this team that they were able to absorb information and apply it in the playoffs in order for us to win versus formidable opponents.”

Led offensively by Reed, forward Dom Trimbur and Belak, Baldwin ended up with a 103-24 overall scoring advantage this season. The Highlanders reeled in the Penguins Cup in 1975, 1982, 1988 and 2021, as well as the PIHL Division II title in 2014, and state crowns in 1975, 1988 and 2021.

Reed’s goal at the end of this year’s state championship game was his fourth of the playoffs and 27th overall. Reed has been playing hockey since he was 3; he was a fourth-year varsity player and team captain this season.

“Keith was a great captain and did everything the coaches could’ve asked for,” Glock said. “He scored some big goals all year, especially in the playoffs. It was cool to see him put the icing on the cake for our team at the end.”

Baldwin would have played Latrobe for the PIHL Class AA championship in 2020 had the final not been canceled by the covid-19 shutdown.

Can the Highlanders possibly string together another championship season in 2021-22?

While there are seven key seniors on the 2020-21 varsity roster, there also are 11 juniors, seven sophomores and one freshman.

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