Franklin Regional learns lesson, returns to finals

Monday, March 21, 2022 | 8:51 PM

The Franklin Regional hockey team learned a valuable lesson when it played South Fayette in the PIHL Class 2A semifinals March 15: don’t underestimate your opponent.

Despite routing the Lions, 7-2, during the regular season, the Panthers (18-2) faced a different foe and needed some late-game heroics to pull out 3-2 overtime win and reach the Penguins Cup championship for the second consecutive season.

Chase Williams tied the score on a penalty shot with 1 minute, 45 seconds left, and Matt Knizner scored the winner midway through the first overtime to rally the Panthers.

Now they get a rematch against Thomas Jefferson (19-1), which won the first meeting 5-1 on Jan. 25. Face-off is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex at Cranberry.

South Fayette was running the trap on us, and it was doing it very well,” Franklin Regional coach John Winebrenner said. “They made it difficult for us to move the puck up ice.

“We know what to do. It was a lot of nerves. A lot of guys were here last year, and they worked hard to get back to that point.”

Franklin Regional lost to Baldwin, 2-0, in the 2021 finals.

“It’s a big game, the last game, and you have to work hard,” Winebrenner said. “It’s a fight to the end.”

Luke Lavrich gave Franklin Regional a 1-0 lead in the first meeting, but TJ scored the next five goals, three by Nick Stock. The special teams unit was the key for the Jaguars, who scored two power-play goals and a short-handed goal.

TJ defeated Penn-Trafford, 6-2, in the semifinals, scoring four times in the second period to break open a close game. Colby Bilski scored a hat trick for TJ. He had 16 goals and 15 assists during the regular season, and Ryder McGuirk had 15 goals.

One area the Panthers must clean up is staying out of the penalty box. It hurt them against South Fayette, and it hurt them in the first meeting against TJ.

Against Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional the first time, the Jaguars used a strong second period to take control of the games.

The third period of the first meeting saw Franklin Regional receive five penalties and Thomas Jefferson six.

Winebrenner said it was difficult to read how the game was going to be called against South Fayette.

“We didn’t do a good job against South Fayette,” Winebrenner said.

Zach Abdallah leads Franklin Regional with 18 goals, Zach Zeto 16, Knizner and Lavrich 15 and Williams 13 and 34 assists.

Thomas Jefferson coach John Zeiler said his team plays for one another.

“Everyone plays a huge role,” Zeiler said. “We’re here for one reason: to win it all.”

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at


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