Hempfield edges Latrobe, pulls into 1st-place tie with rival Wildcats

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 | 8:07 AM

Another game against a top rival turned into another PIHL victory for the Hempfield Spartans on Monday night. And you could imagine the joy just by watching and listening as Hempfield's players gleefully filed out of the locker room after their 4-3 triumph over Latrobe at Nevin Arena.

“I can't stop smiling, coach,” yelled one Spartans player from a crowd heading toward the door.

Senior goaltender Nolen Ferree kept up his tradition of trying to be the last player out, maybe because he just wanted to take it all in — again.

“Four times in a row now over the last two years,” Ferree said, referring to a winning streak against Latrobe. He stopped 31 of 34 shots in his latest effort, many coming under pressure situations with his team shorthanded because of penalties.

The last time was a real headache for Ferree, who yielded Latrobe's third goal with 55 seconds left and the Wildcats on a two-man advantage in the Hempfield end after pulling goaltender Gage Handwork.

After Blake Rossi rammed home a power-play goal to cut the Hempfield lead to 4-3, Ferree looked over his shoulder at the scoreboard.

“At the end of the game when the score's tight, you have to know the situation on the ice,” Ferree said. “You've got to know how to play it out, just hang in there until it's over. That's what we were able to do tonight.”

Jared Gerger scored a goal and assisted on two others for Hempfield, which pulled into a first-place tie with the Wildcats in the PIHL Class 2A South/East Division with 20 points apiece.

In Hempfield's opener Oct. 9, a 5-3 victory over Latrobe, Ferree stopped 42 of 45 shots.

“He's been fantastic for us. He's our rock back there,” Hempfield coach Dennis Zeravica said.

With the teams tied at 1, Ferree withstood a 5-on-3 by Latrobe in the first period but allowed Jarred Stein's goal shortly after the teams were again at full strength, and Latrobe took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Matthew Traczynski gave Hempfield a 1-0 advantage 59 seconds into the game.

“That was huge getting that kind of a start,” Zeravica said. “The guys really tried to feed off that. And when Nolen started to turn aside shots like he was, you could feel the energy even on the bench.”

Paxton Knupp's goal for Latrobe tied it at 1-1 at 6:36 of the first. Hempfield got the only goal of the second period when Trent Gray scored at 10:40.

Gerger's goal 46 seconds into the third period put Hempfield back in front 3-2, and Matthew Bartus made it 4-2 at 11:20.

“When you give up a goal in the first minute and put yourself in a hole that quickly, it's tough,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said. “We were fortunate to be able to come back for a time. In the second period, we started to put some good stretches together. But this game was so physical and this is such a tight division that you've definitely got to be at your best all the time.”

Latrobe started the process of pulling Handwork with more than 2 minutes remaining, and the Wildcats nearly were able to come back. After Rossi's goal at 16:05 made it 4-3, they peppered Ferree with more shots up until the final second.

“He was really sharp again for them,” Werner said. “We took an awful lot of shots, but he was up for it.”

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.

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