Indiana rallies in third period to end Kiski Area’s dream season in PIHL semifinals

Tuesday, March 10, 2020 | 11:34 PM

It’s difficult to beat a team three times in a season, as Indiana’s hockey team proved in the PIHL Penguins Cup semifinals Tuesday night.

After falling twice to Kiski Area by one goal during the regular season, Indiana claimed the rubber match in a 4-2 victory over the Cavaliers at Robert Morris University’s Island Sports Complex.

Indiana scored two late goals in the third period to break a 2-2 deadlock.

With 4:45 remaining, Ben Nettleton won an offensive zone faceoff to the blue line. Ethan Agnello wristed a shot through traffic that beat Kiski goaltender Eric Petika above the blocker.

Two minutes later, Nettleton won a battle along the boards and sent a pass across the crease to a wide open Korbin Wilson, who poked the puck into an open net.

Nettleton scored the first two goals for Indiana in the game. The sophomore forward contributed to all four Little Indians goals on the night.

“He’s one of those guys who is going to find the puck,” Indiana coach Jordan Haines said. “He’s not necessarily the one to look for the back of the net, which sometimes I don’t like because he is always passing the puck, but he’s the one who will find the backdoor alley.”

Kiski struck first with 13:16 remaining in the opening period. Defenseman Aiden Sites took a pass from himself off of the boards and skated the length of the ice. The sophomore threw a puck across the front of the goal, and it went off of the pads of Indiana goaltender Seamus O’Connor and into the back of the net for an unassisted goal.

From there, the Indiana pressure began to take its toll. The Little Indians’ forecheck was relentless throughout the game, leading to numerous offensive-zone turnovers and scoring opportunities.

The first Nettleton goal came off of a forecheck win by Orlando Clark. He found Corbin Wilson in front, who delivered a pass to Nettleton. The forward went forehand to backhand to beat Petika to tie the game.

Midway through the second period, Agnello made a great play at the blue line to keep a Cavaliers clearance from exiting the zone. He then found Nettleton in the slot, who wristed in his second tally of the evening. It was yet another goal set up by offensive-zone pressure.

“In the beginning, we went with a 1-1-3 forecheck and then moved to a 2-1-2 heavy, heavy pressure, and I think it started to get them a little bit tired,” Haines said. “And after we punched that last goal in, we just went into a trap that was very effective. You have to have the right kids who buy in, and it worked today.”

Kiski wouldn’t go away, however. Just three minutes after Nettleton’s second, the Cavaliers used the forecheck to their advantage. Mason Pierce forced a turnover in the offensive zone. The deflected clearance found its way to Ethan George in front of the net, and the freshman wristed it past O’Connor.

“The kids played well all year,” Kiski first-year coach Mark Hastings said. “They never gave up. They played to the end every game.

“Honestly, we just didn’t have enough left (in the tank) at the end of the year.”

Both teams’ goaltenders had spectacular saves in the final six minutes of the second period that kept the score tied at 2-2. Petika stopped a deflected shot from the blue line, and then denied the Danny Williams putback attempt with a sprawling save to send the puck just wide of the net.

Or did he?

“I don’t think I did (get a piece of it),” Petika said with a laugh. “There was definitely a bit of puck luck out there, but it wasn’t enough to win the game.”

Then with just 12 seconds remaining in the period, O’Connor denied a great scoring opportunity from point-blank range that bailed out his defenders and kept the score deadlocked and allowed for the late heroics of Agnello.

Throughout the night, Indiana dominated in the faceoff circle, particularly in the offensive zone. It was a late draw win by Nettleton that led to Agnello’s game-winner.

“(Nettleton) and Tanner Agnello we try to get on faceoffs all of the time,” Haines said. “And the thing about those kids is that they’re disciplined. They know that they have to go on the next shift. So if you win the faceoff, do what you need to do, and then hustle your (rear) off of the ice.”

A spectacular season ends for Kiski (13-8-1). After winning just one game last year, which came on a forfeit, the Cavaliers won a division championship and came just one game shy of a trip to the Penguins Cup championship game. Petika, one of only three seniors on the Kiski team, finished with 30 saves.

Indiana (13-6-3) advances to play for the Class A title against Thomas Jefferson, a 4-1 victor over North Catholic. The Jaguars won the regular-season matchup 8-4 in November.

The championship will be played at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

Thomas Jefferson 4, North Catholic 1 — Hunter Fairman scored his first of two goals to break a 1-1 tie less than two minutes into the second period to lead Thomas Jefferson into the PIHL Class A championship game.

Thomas Jefferson’s Colby Bilski and North Catholic’s Dominic Dezort traded goals in the first period. Thomas Jefferson (21-1-0), which held North Catholic (18-3-1) to 10 shots, scored the game’s last three goals, including two from Fairman and one from Eddie Pazo.

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