Latrobe begins Penguins Cup quest against Armstrong

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Sunday, March 1, 2020 | 8:57 PM


Latrobe’s 10 seniors have seen a lot in the PIHL Penguins Cup Class 2A playoffs the past three years, except for a championship.

Some were part of the team’s run to the Penguins Cup final in 2017 as a wild card. The next season, the Wildcats earned the top seed but were upset in the first round. Last winter, the team reached the semifinals.

Now, Latrobe (16-1-1), which finished the regular season second overall with 33 points, is seeking the program’s first Penguins Cup championship since 2013.

“It’s definitely the part of the year we’ve all been working toward,” Latrobe senior forward Colten McCutcheon said. “A lot of us have been playing together since sixth or seventh grade. We knew our senior year was going to be big. This is what it’s all coming down to now.”

The Wildcats open the playoffs against Armstrong (7-9-1) at 7:15 p.m. Monday at Kirk Nevin Arena. Latrobe beat the River Hawks, 2-1, on Dec. 16.

“They are a good, fast team and very physical. They are a very well-coached team, too. They are strong,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said. “Their record doesn’t reflect how good they are. Once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen. It’s definitely not a matchup we’re taking for granted.”

For most of the season, Latrobe battled Baldwin (17-1-0) for the top overall spot in Class AA. Two losses in January, including a 5-3 setback to the Highlanders, stung. However, Latrobe rebounded for wins in its last three games, including a 3-2 overtime victory over Franklin Regional when the Wildcats erased a 2-0 deficit in the third.

“We’re pretty excited to be headed to playoffs, and that last win over Franklin was definitely big for us. It really showed our team’s depth and showed this team won’t give up,” Latrobe senior defenseman Ean LaMolinara said. “We definitely have some momentum. We came out of the season with a perfect record in our division, too, which was nice.”

Said Werner: “Those losses kind of opened our eyes a little and showed us that we’re not invincible. We need to bring our ‘A’ game every game. We tweaked some things, and I think we’ve finished the regular season well. We’re in a good spot, a spot where we wanted to be. One of our goals was to win our division.”

Latrobe finished atop Class AA in goals scored (106). Cole Ferri led the way with 27 goals and 47 points. Alex Walker (12 goals, 41 points), Alex Schall (15 goals, 33 points), Jarred Stein (nine goals, 22 points) and J.S. Florek (eight goals, 22 points) were next. Josh Martino (nine goals, 18 points), Lane Ruffner (five goals, 18 points) and McCutcheon (nine goals, 16 points) reached double digits in points, as well.

“Just about everyone on the team has one point, and that’s great to see,” Werner said. “You never know who it’s going to be and what game it might be. That makes us tough to defend. Our diversity in scoring has led to our success.”

Defense has played a big part, too. The team has allowed only 27 goals.

“We’re working hard on that as a team. We have six solid defensemen and we can all play in any situation. We’re comfortable having everyone out there at any point,” LaMolinara said. “The forwards are backchecking. They are not leaving us hung out to dry. They come back and help us out by picking up that late guy or that loose puck. Vinny (Amatucci) and Greg (Irons) in net, we can rely on them both as well.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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