Montour’s offense shines in PIHL Class A Penguins Cup championship victory
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 | 9:52 PM
Offense wins championships, too.
Montour proved that Tuesday night as the Spartans rolled to a 6-3 win over South Fayette in the PIHL Class A Penguins Cup championship game at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
“It’s unbelievable,” Montour captain Richie Froehlich said. “I am so proud of everyone. This is great.”
It’s the first Penguins Cup for Montour.
“I am pretty happy. It’s awesome,” Montour coach Clay Shell said. “The boys were just awesome. It’s been a fantastic year.”
The Spartans (21-1) take on Bayard Rustin for the state championship at 11 a.m. Saturday at the RMU Island Sports Center. The Golden Knights have won the past five state titles.
“I am not changing the way we play,” Shell said. “All year, we went one shift, one period and one game at a time. We weren’t looking ahead to the state championship until this was done. Now, we’ll look at that and figure out what to do.”
Most likely, Montour will rely on its offense, just as it did against South Fayette (19-3). The Spartans, who boast nine players with double-digit goal totals, led PIHL Class A with 181 goals in the regular season. They kept it going in the postseason with 26 goals in their first three Penguins Cup playoff games. They scored the first three goals against the Lions, who were Class A’s top defensive team (26 goals against) during the regular season.
“We studied film on them and we knew they were very, very good defensively. So, we tried to spread things out and spread them out to try to give us some lanes and it started working,” Shell said. “Then, they started shutting that down because they are a good team, and it was back and forth.”
The Spartans’ forecheck bothered South Fayette, too, as the Lions committed a handful of turnovers that led to goals.
In South Fayette’s defensive zone, Montour’s Michael Felsing stole the puck from a defender along on the far boards, broke in on goal and scored 6 minutes, 52 seconds into the game.
The Spartans went up 2-0 when Froehlich chipped a pass to Anthony Migliozzi, and the puck found its way into the goal with 5:59 left in the first.
Montour pushed its lead to 3-0 when Dustin Geregach converted Froehlich’s pass from the far corner 1:11 into the second period.
“It was huge to build a big lead,” Froehlich said. “They are an unbelievable team, and it was an honor to play against them. I am happy with the results. We didn’t want to change much, just keep doing what we do best.”
South Fayette got on the scoreboard with 11:52 remaining in the second as Nolan Sarnowski’s wrister from the far point sailed through a crowd and into the goal on the power play. It trimmed the Spartans’ lead to 3-1.
Montour struck back 1:19 later. Froehlich deflected Geregach’s shot from the far point into the net to make it a 4-1 game with 10:33 left in the second period.
“Falling behind wasn’t the game plan. We knew they were going to come out and move the puck around. We are a team that is a system defensive team, and we knew we had to kind of bend, but not break. We had to hold off that initial wave,” South Fayette coach Frank Certo said.
“I think some bounces went their way, and we ended up getting behind on the scoreboard and let the emotions get involved. Our system takes a little bit of time to get moving, but we were able to mount some momentum. The big thing was, every time we got something going, they’d put an equalizer right behind it. They responded and they were the better team.”
Sarnowski tallied his second goal from nearly the identical spot as his first to slice Montour’s lead to 4-2 with 7:01 left.
The Spartans got that one back when Ethan Diffendal’s slapper sailed into the goal on the power play for a 5-2 advantage with 5:59 remaining.
Ian Kumar ripped a slapper into the net 3:46 into the third period to trim Montour’s lead to 5-3.
Ryan Eisel put the game out of reach, 6-3, when he scored with 2:43 left.
“We’re moving our way along. This group of seniors, many of them were in the championship game as freshmen. They’ve played in some semifinals and finals and they’ve really accomplished a lot for this school,” Certo said. “There were a ton of kids in the stands who can’t wait to play varsity hockey for us. It’s a positive all the way around. It’s not easy for these seniors, but there’s a lot of class with these kids.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.