Led by a natural hat trick from Tanner Agnello, Indiana captures 1st Penguins Cup crown

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021 | 1:00 AM


If the waiting is indeed the hardest part, consider the hard part over for the Indiana Little Indians.

Paced by a second-period hat trick from Tanner Agnello, Indiana won its first Penguins Cup title, capturing the PIHL Class A championship with a 3-2 victory over Chartiers Valley at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.

After a scoreless first period in which top-seeded Indiana outshot the Colts 15-3, the Little Indians were finally able to break through in the second period. Agnello, a senior forward, scored a power-play goal on a slap shot at 8:03 off a nice assist from his brother Ethan.

Agnello then converted a feed from Danny Williams at 11:17 to make the score 2-0. He completed the natural hat trick at 13:38 when he beat Logan Marnik with a wrist shot for an unassisted goal to give Indiana a three-goal lead.

“I didn’t shoot at first, and the coaches were screaming at me on the bench to shoot it,” Agnello said. “I listened to them, and when I shot it, the puck just ended up in the back of the net.”

As the Little Indians held Chartiers Valley to just seven shots through two periods, it looked like that burst would be enough, but to the Colts’ credit, they fought back in the final period.

Greg Kraemer scored his fifth goal of the playoffs on a power play at 8:35, and when captain Jackson Fodor converted a breakaway at 11:43, things got interesting.

With the goalie pulled, Zach Wood was called for holding with 52 seconds remaining in regulation, and the Colts had a 6-on-4 advantage. But Chartiers Valley was unable to beat the Little Indians goaltender Seamus O’Connor, and Indiana skated away with its coveted championship on its sixth try.

“It’s very exciting,” Agnello said. “On the way here, we had a police escort and fire trucks. The whole town was supporting us, which is awesome.”

Coach Jordan Haines, who played for the Little Indians, was emotional when reflecting on the journey to Indiana’s title.

“Playing 20 years ago for that opportunity, we let it slip,” he said. “Coaching for the Penguins Cup and letting it slip as well. But we did it. I got to hold that cup and touch that trophy. There were so many times I sat on that blue line and watched somebody else do it.”

Chartiers Valley, the third seed which was seeking its first Penguins Cup since 1986, finished the season 14-5-1-1 but not without an outstanding effort from the senior Marnik, who turned aside 48 of the 51 Indiana shots he faced.

“I think he’s probably one of the best goalies in our league, in my opinion,” Haines said. “Honestly, he made saves tonight that I thought were in.”

The Little Indians were set to play Thomas Jefferson for last year’s championship, but that game was canceled at the start of the pandemic. Indiana had previously won a championship in 2015, but that was the PIHL Division II (now Class B) title.

With the victory, the junior netminder O’Connor and the Little Indians both improved to 20-0 on the season. Indiana became the first team since Bishop McCort in 2018 to win a Penguins Cup with an undefeated record. But the Crimson Crushers lost in the state championship.

The last team to win a Pennsylvania Cup with a spotless record was Latrobe, which finished 26-0 in 2009.

Indiana will face the winner of the Class A Flyers Cup on Saturday at the UPMC Sports Complex in Cranberry. The Eastern Championship pits No. 1 West Chester East against No. 6 West Chester Henderson on Tuesday night.

“This is a huge weight off of our shoulders,” Haines said. “But we get to play for a state championship, and that’s what everybody wants to do. I hope that we can move forward and relax. We’ve just had this target on our back from being undefeated. Now let’s just strive for another goal and a bigger accomplishment.”

Watch a replay of this game on Trib HSSN.

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