History on the table as Norwin hockey seeks 1st PIHL Penguins Cup title

Sunday, March 20, 2022 | 4:01 PM

Dinner tasted particularly good that night.

Nearly two months before their run to the PIHL Penguins Cup championship game, Norwin hockey players and coaches gathered at The Canned Tomato in Irwin, where senior defenseman Will Dillner is a chef, for a team sitdown. It was a what-are-we-made-of gathering, a meal to air out any beefs.

“We all came together as a group in January, before our big stretch,” Knights coach Mike Robinson said. “We knew we had to make a run and that we were capable of making a run. We talked about what we needed to do.”

Dillner provided the food, and a discussion turned into the tightening of nuts and bolts Norwin needed to make a playoff push. A serious playoff push.

They won four of their final six games, including an upset of unbeaten Fox Chapel, and clinched the Class A Southeast Division title.

The Knights (15-4-2) earned the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and took down No. 5 Westmont Hilltop (3-2) in the quarterfinals and No. 1 Fox Chapel (5-4) in the semis to reach their first league final since 1984.

They have never won a title, but that could change Monday night.

“It has been so long since Norwin has been this far,” Knights sophomore forward Mario Cavallaro said. “We wanted it more than (Fox Chapel) did. We knew we could get here.”

Cavallaro was Super Mario on Wednesday when he netted the winner early in overtime as the Knights surprised Fox Chapel for a second time. They were the only team to beat the Foxes (19-0-2) this season.

Now the Knights will meet seventh-seeded McDowell (14-8) and high-scoring junior Nico Catalde, who had two goals in a 5-3 win over No. 3 Quaker Valley in the other semifinal.

The teams play at 8:45 p.m. Monday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

The matchup will be unique for Robinson because he is a 2009 McDowell graduate.

Norwin beat McDowell in November, 6-3.

“I was kind of rooting for them to make it, but for other reasons,” Robinson said. “It will be interesting to go against them.”

Robinson watched countless hours of film on Fox Chapel to get his team ready. His dedication to learning every nuance and subtle detail of the Foxes paid off.

That, and constant input from his players.

Norwin’s coach brings a collaborative approach to the bench.

“I’ve spent so many hours away from my kids,” Robinson said. “I have tried to find that edge in preparation that can help us. The power play, the penalty kill … everything. I wanted to give us the best chance to win.

“(The players) have just as much a say in what we do as the coaches.”

Norwin has scored 133 goals this season and has shown a propensity to pick up the pace in the man-advantage.

Their eight postseason goals have come from six players.

Alex Thomas, another sophomore, had two goals and an assist in the semifinals.

“They have a (heck) of a power play,” McDowell coach Alex Luddy said. “Their special teams are very good. We have to be disciplined and have to want it more.”

McDowell also brings new blood to the Penguins Cup party. The Trojans also are seeking their first championship.

“We haven’t been here since 1980; that’s what I have been told,” Luddy said. “It’s exciting for the boys. We’re a second-year varsity team, and we’ve put a lot into it.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.


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