Franklin Regional hockey scores late to take down Hempfield

Monday, February 5, 2018 | 10:26 PM

Franklin Regional was in desperate need of a victory, having lost three of its past four hockey games, and the Panthers already were in a two-goal hole against Hempfield on Monday night at Nevin Arena.

Then, things began to turn for the Panthers.

Franklin Regional scored three times in a span of a little more than four minutes in the second period and held out hope of getting back in the win column and ending a two-game skid with time running out to secure a PIHL playoff spot in the tight Class AA South/East Division race.

The outcome, however, wasn't decided until the final horn.

Mathieu Sliva's fluke, power-play goal at 10:12 of the third period turned out to be the difference in Franklin Regional's 4-3 victory over Hempfield.

Oldrich Virag scored a pair of goals for Franklin Regional during the Panthers' second-period rally and almost notched a hat trick but was stopped on a breakaway that followed his second goal.

“He had a number of other good chances to find the net,” Franklin Regional coach Brian Kurtz said. “Luckily, we got that last goal in the third period, and that's usually how it goes — a fluky bounce. We kind of fanned on it, and I think my defensemen lifted up their guy's stick and the puck managed to go in.”

The victory ruined Hempfield's senior night, but the Spartans, like Franklin Regional, remained in the hunt for a playoff spot and even perhaps a high seed.

Hempfield (9-5) has three regular-season games remaining and Franklin Regional (10-6) has two.

“It was such an intense game, an intense atmosphere,” Kurtz said. “It's intense in this division from top to bottom.”

Five points separated the top and bottom of the standings heading into Monday's games.

First-place Latrobe (12-5) defeated Upper St. Clair (9-6), 6-3, in a later game at Nevin Arena.

Hempfield grabbed an early lead with a pair of first-period goals, Trent Gray beating Franklin Regional goaltender Daniel Soltesz at 11:30 and Jared Gerger following with another score at 16:28.

Jason Haines' goal for Franklin Regional at 7:21 of the second cut the lead in half before Virag scored once against Hempfield goaltender Nolen Ferree on a power play at 10:14 and again at 11:45 to put the Panthers in the lead, 3-2.

“We certainly got off to a good start, and we played as a team in the first period,” Hempfield coach Dennis Zeravica said.

“But we played too much as individuals after that. You can't do that and expect to have the results you want. This is a very tight race, and every game counts.”

Nicholas Koziara managed to score at 15:07 and help Hempfield take a 3-3 tie into the second intermission.

“We didn't get the start we wanted, but we knew once we got through that second period tied that we had a good chance,” Kurtz said. “I told the guys to just go out and give it the best shot, and they did.”

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.

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