North Allegheny hockey falls in state championship game

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Saturday, April 24, 2021 | 8:59 PM


North Allegheny’s hunt for a third Class AAA state ice hockey championship came up short as Malvern Prep earned its third title and first since 2004 with a 4-2 victory over the Tigers.

North Allegheny took an early lead on a goal from sophomore Nathan Spak, igniting the home crowd as the Tigers went up 1-0 just 3 minutes, 17 seconds into the game.

Malvern Prep quickly stole that momentum back to take a commanding 3-1 lead, scoring three goals in less than two and a half minutes midway through the first.

On a North Allegheny power play, Quinn Dougherty sprung out of the penalty kill and raced ahead, scoring a short-handed goal to tie the score with 10 seconds remaining in the Tigers’ man-advantage.

Just 26 seconds later, the Friars pounced again. Matt Harris dished a pass to Jack Costabile, wide open on the backside of the goal, burying the puck to give Malvern Prep a 2-1 lead.

Less than two minutes later, Costabile scored again, flinging a bouncing puck past Tigers goaltender Josh Bailey to put the Friars up 3-1. Malvern Prep scored three goals on its first five shots.

“We come out on fire, get that first goal, had that power play,” Tigers coach Mike Bagnato said.

Unfortunately for North Allegheny, the three-goal burst that followed was costly.

“I was basically telling them, we’ve got a lot of hockey to play,” Bagnato said.

Malvern Prep continued to add to its lead in the second, when Jimmy Kirk put the puck past Bailey to give the Friars a 4-1 lead 20 seconds into the frame.

North Allegheny struggled on the power play during its first two opportunities, allowing the short-handed goal, but the third time was the charm. The Tigers’ Connor Chi took a feed from Spak and put it past Prep goalie Anthony Perti to cut the deficit to two.

Perhaps the best chance for North Allegheny to make it a one-goal game came late in the second. Luke Washabaugh used a burst of speed to jump up ice ahead of the Friars defense, but he couldn’t get all of the shot off as a defender and the netminder Perti were able to poke at the puck and break up the opportunity.

After North Allegheny went 1 for 4 on the power play, its penalty kill was put to the test to start the third period. Trailing 4-2, the Tigers were whistled for their first penalty, which became back-to-back-to-back penalties, and spent six of the first nine minutes of the third on the penalty kill.

“Can’t take penalties,” Bagnato said, “not in the third period. I thought coming out, we’d come at it right away. But we got a couple penalties right off the bat. We killed them, but that’s all the momentum because you’re trying to get back into the game and score that next goal.”

The Friars dominated shots on goal throughout the final frame and led 8-2 in shots with 4:30 remaining.

Defenseman Trey Gallo rang a shot off the post with 4:23 remaining as the Tigers were on the hunt to make it a one-goal game. Defenseman Kyle Holmes blasted a shot from the blue line with roughly 2:30 remaining, but it was blocked aside by Perti to protect the Friars’ two-goal lead.

Bagnato used his timeout with 1:37 remaining and emptied the Tigers net, looking for at least a goal and a last gasp at the state championship. Malvern Prep took two quick shots at the empty net and missedbefore a faceoff in the Tigers zone put Bailey back in the cage. North Allegheny mustered one final shot on goal but could not break through, falling 4-2. Both goaltenders finished with 21 saves.

“I thought we hung tough, we kept ourselves in this game,” Bagnato said. “The only thing you can ever ask from your players is that they give you their best. This team, not just today, gave us their best effort.”

North Allegheny finished the season as Penguins Cup champions and state runners-up in Class AAA with a 16-6-0-2 record.

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