La Salle takes down North Allegheny in Class AAA Pennsylvania Cup championship

Saturday, March 23, 2019 | 8:08 PM

North Allegheny rolled into the second intermission break on the back of two late goals that got the Tigers tied with La Salle and looked to continue the momentum when they received a power play early in the third.

That’s when a series of unfortunate events happened.

The Tigers had a point-blank opportunity blocked and cleared, then had a defensive zone lapse behind their own net, and La Salle’s Sam Lipkin stole the puck and scored on goalie Richard Karapandi, who slipped trying to get into position.

Lipkin’s goal turned out to be the game-winner and La Salle added two late empty-net goals to secure a 6-3 win over North Allegheny in the Class AAA Pennsylvania Cup state championship game Saturday at RMU Island Sports Center.

North Allegheny coach Mike Bagnato said the mistake didn’t define the day or the season for his team, which battled against an Explorers team that features several future NCAA Division I hockey players.

“There was a little bit of a defensive breakdown there, and Richie just fell. … That happens sometimes,” Bagnato said. “We played a heck of a hockey game. They’ve got future (NCAA) Division I hockey players down there in their locker room. Our guys fell behind a couple times, and we just kept fighting back.”

La Salle won the Pennsylvania Cup for the sixth time and first time since 2016. North Allegheny was seeking its third state title and first since 2013.

Lipkin had a hat trick and was part of a top line for La Salle that was on the ice for all six of their goals. Michael Casey scored two goals and Providence commit Daniel Sambuco had a goal and three assists. Sambuco also had the key block on the penalty kill in the third before Lipkin’s short-handed goal.

All three are sophomores who had about 50 points on the season.

“They’re high-skilled players that are ultimate competitors,” Explorers coach Wally Muehlbronner said. “That line is some of the best competitors I’ve had in my 21 years. They’re pretty special hockey players.”

Muehlbronner said Sambuco was at the U.S. National Development Team tryouts in Ann Arbor, Mich. this week, but returned to play in the state championship game and is heading back after the game.

The Explorers led 3-1 midway through the second, but North Allegheny started getting sustained pressure and turned it into goals.

After a long sequence in the Explorers zone, Aaron Miller cashed in by flipping a shot over the shoulder of Explorers goalie Aidan McCabe. Two minutes later the Tigers forced a turnover in the neutral zone that led to a 3-on-2 break and Miller one-timed a pass from Luke Turkovich into the net to tie it 3-3 with 1:40 remaining in the period.

“We had them on the run, but the break gave them a chance to regroup a little bit,” Bagnato said. “When we came out in the third period and played well, it was a back-and-forth game. They were a fun team to play. The last few games we’ve been in have been very good hockey. It was up and down.”

Karapandi finished with 39 saves, capping off a strong playoff campaign where he made 146 saves on 152 shots in four games. Tyler Putnan scored for the Tigers by finishing off a breakaway after stealing the puck in the first period.

Saturday was also the 40th anniversary of Bagnato’s loss as a player in the state championships with North Catholic. He shared some memories with his players in the locker room after the game and said he wants them to take their positive experiences forward with them.

“The one thing I told them was the loss wasn’t important,” Bagnato said. “What’s important is there are a couple guys on that (North Catholic) team that were out there waiting for me today. I go on golf vacations with them, and I am friends with their families still to this day. Nothing can take away from them the relationships and what they’ve built together.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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