North Allegheny relies on balance in quest for 3rd straight Penguins Cup championship

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Sunday, February 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM


As the hockey schedule reached late February, North Allegheny’s Connor Chi pushed his season-long scoring streak to 19 games. The senior recorded at least one goal or assist in every contest, cementing his spot as an elite scorer.

But this winter, he’s had help.

North Allegheny clinched the top spot in the PIHL Class 3A standings with a deep lineup that outscored opponents by 51 goals. Chi led the team with 15 goals, and junior defenseman Trey Gallo had 13, but the Tigers also had 10 others skaters who scored four or more.

That’s up from the past two seasons.

“If you look at the scoring, we have very good balance,” NA coach Mike Bagnato said. “Obviously, we have Connor and Trey who are doing a good job, but there’s that whole second tier of guys.”

Among them, junior Matt Irvin had 11 goals, and senior Nolan Colinear and junior Nate Spak each scored eight. Senior Luke Washabaugh had six goals. Kyle Holmes, Cole Jackman and Evan Kaminski scored five apiece. Combined, the team averages better than four goals per game.

“This is one of the deeper teams,” Bagnato said. “We’ve probably had teams with more top-loaded kids, but as an overall (roster), I think this is the best group we’ve had for overall talent that we’ve had in quite awhile.”

That’s allowed Bagnato to mix and match with line combinations throughout the season.

“Whether it’s Washabaugh or Colinear or Irvin, who’s playing awesome, we’ve had a lot of good scoring across the board,” Bagnato said.

That has North Allegheny in position to maybe win another PIHL title. The Tigers have won the past two titles in Class 3A with no champion crowned in 2020 because of the pandemic.

NA held a five-point lead over Pine-Richland in the regular-season standings with one game left.

“We have had a very, very good year,” Bagnato said. “I would attribute that to a lot of things. I think most importantly we have a very good nucleus of senior leadership. They’ve been involved with the team two or three years.”

Chi leads a senior class that has never lost a Penguins Cup playoff game. Along with his 15 goals, he had 21 assists for 36 points, which ranked him among the top five scorers in the PIHL for the second year in a row. His coach says that consistency captures Chi’s resilience.

“He deserves a lot of credit,” Bagnato said. “It’s no surprise with him now, right? When people are playing us, they’re trying to make sure they’re shutting him down as best as possible.”

NA has outscored teams 90-39, but the Tigers didn’t reach that plus-51 with offense alone. Junior goalie Rylan Murphy owns a 1.42 goals against average, which ranks second best in Class 3A. But NA’s goalies have faced the fewest shots, which is a credit to the team’s defense and puck possession.

“We talk about all the guys that are scoring — and everybody looks at Trey because of his points — but we are strong in the back,” Bagnato said. “And we have centers who are coming back 200 feet and making the plays.”

That defense paired with good scoring depth is a combination that should work well in the playoffs.

“Sometimes you get into the playoffs and you get caught up on the matchups or you change a lot,” Bagnato said. “I don’t know how much we’ll change. Obviously, you have to adjust to things during a game, but you’ve got to do what’s made you successful the whole time.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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