Norwin hockey thriving under pressure as Penguins Cup semifinals await

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Monday, March 13, 2023 | 4:24 PM


With a flair for the dramatic of late, and an unwavering focus on raising the Penguins Cup again, Norwin is ready for another semifinal matchup with Fox Chapel.

The teams will face off at 7 p.m.Wednesday at Robert Morris Island Sports Center in Moon for a spot in the finals.

Norwin (17-4) has won three straight one-goal games, including two in the playoffs, to return to the semis.

Fox Chapel (19-2) held back Quaker Valley, 5-3, to return to the semis.

Greensburg Salem (18-3) will play Kiski Area (17-5) in the other semifinal at 9 p.m. at RMU.

“It’s been a little stressful lately, for sure,” Norwin senior forward Logan Robb said of the close games. “We have started slow in the first period. I think we’re the only winning team (in the playoffs) that has not scored in the first period. We need to try to overcome that and start faster.”

Last year, the Knights edged the Foxes, 5-4, in overtime to reach the PIHL Class A final.

Then, they dominated McDowell, 5-0, to win their first championship in their first finals appearance since 1984.

This year, they sneaked by West Allegheny in the play-in round, 6-5, and elbowed past McDowell, 3-2 (OT), in the quarterfinals.

League scoring leader Alex Thomas, who had 70 points in 20 games during the regular season on 38 goals and 32 assists, scored for Norwin with 2 minutes, 39 seconds left in overtime against McDowell, Norwin coach Mike Robinson’s alma mater.

“I got the puck and saw him out of the corner of my eye,” Robb said. “I knew he was going to score.”

Thomas had two goals , Dominik Costantino added one and Robb contributed two assists as Norwin moved ahead in the bracket.

“Half of our guys are back from last year’s run,” Robinson said. “They went through it and want to do it again. Any kid who plays hockey, from the time they step on the ice, wants to win a championship. This is the biggest one on high school sports.”

Robb did not play for the varsity team the last two years, instead focusing on his studies and club team.

Seeing his friends win the cup last year played a key role in bringing him back.

“It’s one of the best decisions I ever made to some back,” he said. “I am accepted to Penn State. My friends wanted me to play. I want to win a championship like they did.”

Since Jan. 10, the Knights have played in four overtime games and won three of them.

They scooted around Shaler, 6-5 in overtime, in the last regular season game.

Earlier, the Knights edged Freeport, 3-2, in a shootout, and lost to Kiski, 4-3, in OT.

“We have played a really strong fore-check and been in the zone a lot,” Robb said. “Teams haven’t been able to keep up with us.”

Robinson said sophomore forward and first-liner Dom Cerilli has played a key role in another cup push.

“He has 40-plus points,” Robinson said. “And it’s not just because he plays on Alex’s line. He is a hard forechecker. He’s become one of our vocal leaders now, too.”

Fox Chapel had a league-leading 146 goals during the regular season. Norwin was second with 127.

The Foxes had 49 goals in both the first and third periods, and 48 in the second.

They only have one one-goal game, a 3-2 win over Greensburg Salem.

More importantly for the Foxes, they beat Norwin twice, 7-3 and 9-2.

“Fox Chapel is even deeper than they were last year,” Robinson said.

Letting up an early lead against the high-powered Foxes could be too much of a hole for the Knights to dig out from, no matter how thrilling their late antics have been lately.

Robinson is looking for a lockdown effort from his defensemen.

“How far we go, I thought, would depend a lot on how well our guys came together,” Robinson said, “and how well we played defense. Defense is a gritty part of the game. It’s not as exciting as scoring a highlight-reel goal, but it can be just as important to our success.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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