Franklin Regional hockey suffers heartbreaking loss in Penguins Cup final

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Saturday, March 26, 2022 | 11:01 AM


“Heartbreaking” is the best word to describe the feelings of the Franklin Regional hockey team.

The Panthers were 17 minutes away from their third Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League Class 2A Penguins Cup title.

They were leading No. 1 seed Thomas Jefferson by four goals after playing two dominating periods. But the third period ended up being a nightmare.

Thomas Jefferson (21-1-3) scored four goals to tie the score, and Scotty Allan picked a great time to score his first goal of the playoffs. The Jaguars rallied for a 6-5 victory March 22 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Allan scored 46 seconds into overtime to complete the comeback.

The Jaguars rallied from a couple of three-goal deficits to defeat Hempfield in the quarterfinals.

It was the fourth Pens Cup title for Thomas Jefferson, the first since 2000 when coach John Zeiler was a player.

Down 5-1, Thomas Jefferson didn’t go quietly, scoring two power-play goals early in the third period and getting another with 9 minutes, 11 seconds left to trim the lead to 5-4.

Thomas Jefferson’s rally was aided by Franklin Regional’s undisciplined play to start the third period. The Panthers were whistled for four penalties in the first three minutes, and it resulted in two power play goals.

“We tend to play near the edge,” Franklin Regional coach John Winebrenner said. “I told them we needed to stay out of the penalty box, but sometimes we hurt ourselves with penalties.”

The first power-play goal during the comeback was scored by Ty Rayman at 14:50. The next one was by Colby Bilski with 13:58 left. One of the goals came on a two-man advantage. Lance Smith’s even-strength goal trimmed the lead to one. TJ tied the score 5-5 with 4:47 left on a goal by Pavel Sidun.

“They did a good job being physical with us in the first two periods,” Thomas Jefferson coach John Zeiler said. “We did a better job getting to our game in the third period. We were moving our feet, and they were drawing penalties.”

Winebrenner said the penalty by Chase Williams turned the momentum.

“We did everything right for the first two periods and had them where we wanted,” Winebrenner said. “You just can’t take those penalties. Once you lose momentum, it’s tough to get it back.”

Franklin Regional (18-3-1) grabbed a 1-0 lead when Zach Abdallah tipped in a shot past Thomas Jefferson goaltender Billy Siemon on the power play 2:19 into the game. Luke Beatty and Luke Lavrish assisted on the goal.

The lead went to 2-0 early in the second period (1:17) when Max Rutkowski blocked a pass and beat Siemon on a breakaway.

“We knew it would be a hard-fought game to the end,” Winebrenner said. “The penalties cost us the game.”

Thomas Jefferson quickly responded when Ryder McGuirk put the puck behind Franklin Regional goalie Alex Rauber at 2:10.

The Jaguars continued to pressure Rauber and received a penalty shot when Abdallah was called for covering the puck in the crease. But Rauber stopped Bilski on a penalty shot.

“It could have been a different game is Colby would have scored,” Zeiler said. “But they took it to us with their physical play.

“I’ve never been part of a team with such drive and dedication and no give. When we won the state championship back in the day, you weren’t coming back from a 5-1 deficit. This team has so much character and it’s a family. That’s the culture we have created.”

It was all Franklin Regional after Rauber made the save, and it dominated the rest of the second period, scoring three times to build a 5-1 lead.

Matty Knizner got things started with a goal 11:16 left, and with 10:15 left in the period, Beatty connected on a slapper from near the blue line to make it 4-1.

The Panthers made it 5-1 with 4:00 left in the period on their second power-play goal scored by Ben Yurko.

“Hopefully, the underclassmen learned from this loss,” Winebrenner said. “I know they are taking it hard in the locker room. We have a nice nucleus back. We’ll be back.”

Franklin Regional dropped a 2-0 decision to Baldwin in the 2021 Penguins Cup final.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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