Hempfield takes down Plum in overtime in PIHL Penguins Cup opening round

Tuesday, March 3, 2020 | 12:14 AM

Hempfield kept firing shots at the net at Pittsburgh Ice Arena, but the Spartans could not get the rebounds and put back attempts in front of the net.

Then, in overtime, Jacob Holtzman threw a shot off the pads of Plum goaltender Sam Pine. The puck bounced to Aiden Dunlap, who slammed the back-side rebound into the back of the net. The goal secured Hempfield a 4-3 win in the opening round of the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup Playoffs.

“We work a lot on our cycle,” Hempfield first-year coach Eric Grant said. “(The game-winning goal) was a good example of a weak-side forward presence on the back door, and getting those shots low off of the pads.”

After trailing most of the game, Plum (9-9-0) pulled its goaltender with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining. Logan Schlegel got a pass from Nic Pushic and buried it to tie the game at 3-3 and send the game to overtime. It was Schlegel’s second goal of the game.

“That’s what he does,” Plum coach Phil Mains said of his senior forward, who missed nearly half of the season with injuries. “Twenty-five goals in 12 games? It’s kind of like being spoiled watching him, and you just kind of expect that. I just wish he had another game to go, wish all of the seniors had another game to go.”

Plum got the scoring started four minutes into the game. After being outshot 11-0 in the opening four minutes, Pushic intercepted a pass at the blue line and fired a shot past Hempfield goaltender Joe Behler for the first goal of the game.

Hempfield (11-7-0) responded with three goals in a four-minute stretch. Hunter Smiles started the scoring off with a wrist-shot. Three minutes later, Tristen Lloyd scored an unassisted goal when he ripped a shot between a defender’s legs and beat Pine on the top shelf. Smiles then assisted on a Trent Gray goal, giving the Spartans a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period.

Hempfield outshot the Mustangs, 16-6, in the first period.

Plum cut the lead in half early in the second period on Schlegel’s first goal. The senior’s slap shot from the left wing deflected off of the glove of Behler and trickled into the back of the net.

Early in the third, Plum’s Dan Baranowski was whistled for a cross-checking penalty for a hit on Zach Ridilla. Hempfield’s Caden Spehar retaliated, getting a five-minute major spearing penalty and a game misconduct. Ridilla, one of the top Spartans scorers, suffered a concussion and did not return, forcing Hempfield to play with two fewer skaters the rest of the game.

“We’re down two very important skaters,” Grant said. “Spehar is arguably our No. 2 defenseman, and our No. 1 skating defenseman. We moved kids like Tristan Lloyd back to defense, and he gave us some strength back there. But then we have the ability to plug in guys as well.”

In the final five minutes of the third, Hempfield pushed for the insurance goal, but Pine made three spectacular stops to keep the game within reach. He got his stick on a two-on-none breakaway, and then a minute later robbed a Holtzman effort from point blank range with the glove.

“You could always feel that he was due for a big one,” Mains said about his goalie. “He put on a show. That game is over much sooner without Sam Pine. That was fun to watch in the third period.”

Plum had the first chance in overtime, but this time it was the Hempfield goaltender who had the big stop. Less than two minutes into the extra period, Baranowski found himself one-on-one with Behler, but the senior goalie blocked the shot aside and the subsequent rebound attempt. Dunlap’s game-winner came five minutes later for the Spartans.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Mains said of his squad. “What more can you ask? That’s exactly the kind of team you want to coach — don’t give up, play for each other, play until the end as hard as you can, fight for everything.”

Plum’s squad faced adversity throughout the season, playing a chunk of the year with as few as 10 skaters on the bench because of injuries, including leading scorers Schlegel and Pushic missing six games. Both teams ended up at full strength for the playoffs, but it was Hempfield that gets to play another game in the postseason.

Even with the loss, there was plenty for Mains to be proud of for his Mustangs.

“Certainly a loss is never a success,” he said. “But a division championship is a success, and a home playoff game is something we can build on.”

“Mr. Mains did a great job with that team, bringing them along,” Grant said. “They deserve a lot of credit. That’s a heck of a good team. They move the puck well, they got their shots. Tonight is a testament to them and their progress through the season.”

Hempfield advances to the semifinals of the Penguins Cup playoffs next Wednesday at the RMU Island Sports Center, where the Spartans will face division-mate Latrobe. The Wildcats defeated Armstrong, 6-2, in their first-round game. Grant knows what to expect from a familiar opponent.

“The way they play, they love the center drive, and they execute it very well,” he said. “We have to figure out how to take that away. And we need to get some bounces — that certainly helps.

“We have our work cut out for us, but I think we can handle it. We keep getting closer and closer. They beat us 7-0 the first game, 6-3 last game. Hopefully, it’s 6-3 for us the next time, and we move on.”

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