North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon move on to Penguins Cup finals in Class AAA
Tuesday, April 13, 2021 | 12:22 AM
Connor Chi’s second goal of the game 30 seconds into overtime gave No. 4 North Allegheny a 4-3 win over Peters Township in the first of two PIHL Class AAA semifinal matchups at the RMU Island Sports Center on Neville Island on Monday night.
Chi, who also connected on a first-period power play, fired a wrist shot from between the circles on a one-on-three rush to send the Tigers to the championship game for the second time in the last three seasons. North Allegheny won the AAA title in 2019 and was set to play in the semifinals last year before the covid-19 shutdown.
“If you give Connor a little bit of room, he finds a way to score goals. He’s done it numerous times this year, including in overtime against Mt. Lebanon,” North Allegheny coach Mike Bagnoto said of his junior forward.
Chi’s tally overshadowed the last-second heroics from the Indians’ Austin Malley. Malley, who scored the game’s first goal on a power play, deflected a Carson Alexander wrist shot behind Tigers goaltender Josh Bailey with four seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 3-3.
Special teams played a big part in the win for North Allegheny (15-5-2). The Tigers went 2 for 3 with the man advantage and killed off all three power-play opportunities for No. 1 Peters Township (16-5) in the second period. Bailey made 21 saves in the net to earn the victory for North Allegheny.
Bagnoto acknowledged his special teams were a big part of the win for the Tigers.
“They were (huge),” he said. “Our power play has been pretty steady all year long. We’ve been working really hard on the penalty kill the last three or four weeks and it obviously has paid off.”
Marcus Simmonds’ power-play goal at 5:53 of the third period of the second semifinal contest put the Blue Devils in front, and their defense and sophomore goaltender Austin Martin held the high-scoring Rams off the board the rest of the way to secure the victory.
Connor Ribstein notched his second goal of the playoffs for Mt. Lebanon and senior defenseman Trevor Turkovich also scored. Martin stopped 26-of-28 Pine-Richland shots as the Rams, who won the AA PIHL Title in 2019, saw their season end at 15-7. The Blue Devils (11-9-0-2) endured a stretch during the regular season where they lost eight of nine games.
Following a 3-0 loss to Canon-McMillan, Mt. Lebanon has now won six of its last seven games.
According to Blue Devils coach Jeremy Church, Mt. Lebanon has been in playoff mode since that stretch.
“We’ve been battle tested since that Canon-Mac game, and I knew after that loss we might not necessarily get here, but we’d win a lot of hockey games,” he said. “We really had to win out to even get into the playoffs, so that’s been the key.”
The Blue Devils will play North Allegheny at 6:30 p.m. next Monday night at the RMU Island Sports Center for the PIHL Penguins Cup AAA Championship.
It will mark the third meeting of the year between the teams, and both regular-season games were nail biters.
North Allegheny won 6-5 in overtime in January and in the regular season finale, the Tigers prevailed 3-2 in a shootout.
North Allegheny is trying to become the first PIHL AAA team to repeat as champions since Bethel Park in 2002. The Tigers defeated Peters Township 3-0 in 2019 to capture their third title, and since the playoffs were canceled last season before the championship was decided, North Allegheny technically remains the defending 3A champion.
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