Latrobe hockey looks for balance in semifinal matchup

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Sunday, March 10, 2019 | 6:28 PM


Any victory in the Penguins Cup playoffs is a good one.

For Latrobe, it was especially pleased with its 4-1 win over Hampton. Coach Josh Werner was encouraged with the Wildcats’ all-around play and the balanced scoring they delivered to advance to Wednesday’s Class 2A semifinals against Pine-Richland at 7 p.m. at RMU Island Sports Center.

“It was a good team win, that’s for sure. In the playoffs, you lean on guys that you’ve been leaning on all season, and it was nice to get some secondary scoring, too,” he said.

Against the Talbots, the Wildcats (15-5) took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Alex Walker and John Florek. Cole Novak’s goal in the second gave Latrobe a 3-0 edge before Hampton broke the shutout. Latrobe’s Jarred Stein added a power-play goal late in the period to cap the scoring.

The Wildcats hope they get contributions throughout the lineup against the top-seeded Rams (19-1), too.

“It’s always good to be balanced, especially in the playoffs,” Novak said. “Pine-Richland is so deep. If you don’t have deep scoring yourself, it’s hard to compete with them.”

Latrobe hopes it can repeat its defensive performance from the Hampton game as well. The team allowed only 15 shots.

“Our goalie, Gage Handwork, stood tall and made nice saves. Hampton had some really good opportunities, and Gage played a great game,” Werner said. “That’s what we want to do: make it tough for teams to get good, clean opportunities on us and play good, team defense and that’ll lead to good opportunities offensively for us.

“That was a big win for us. We haven’t won a home playoff game in some time. The guys were a little more focused and a little more pumped to play that game. We’re definitely going to carry what we did in that game over to the Pine-Richland game and maybe add a little more of a complete effort. I think we’ll be competitive and I think we’ll give them a game.”

Latrobe played Pine-Richland on Feb. 7. The Wildcats had a 3-2 lead in the third period before the Rams tied it with 1 minute, 34 seconds left. The game went to a shootout, and Pine-Richland pulled out the victory.

“When we played them the first time, it was very competitive. For a spectator, it was probably a great game to watch. For a coach, it was nailbiter,” Werner said. “We’re hoping for the same thing Wednesday with a better outcome.”

Latrobe wants to avoid getting down early. The Rams scored the first five goals in their 8-4 win over Hempfield to open the postseason.

“Getting up on them early helped us when we played them earlier in the year. I don’t think they are used to getting down early,” Novak said. “If we can weather their storm and maybe get one or two goals early and play with a lead, I think we have a good shot. Beating Hampton was big and gave us some confidence. Competing tight with Pine-Richland earlier in the year gives us more confidence.”

The Wildcats know they have to elevate their game in order to get past Pine-Richland and reach the Penguins Cup championship.

“They are a tough team and well-coached. They are very balanced,” Werner said. “We can’t let our guard down for one shift or one minute. We’ll definitely have to play our best game all season to compete and possibly win.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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