Opponents try, and fail, to knock North Allegheny top scorer off his game

Saturday, February 27, 2021 | 9:01 AM

North Allegheny’s Connor Chi occasionally gets cross-checked behind the play or hit a little late by an opponent trying to intimidate him on the ice.

At maybe 5-foot-8, Chi understands why.

“It’s all good,” he said. “It’s part of the game.”

Yet, so far this season, that strategy certainly hasn’t worked to slow down the top scorer in the PIHL’s largest classification. Wearing No. 43 on his black-and-gold jersey, Chi’s goal-scoring knack might conjure memories of former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary, who’s 5-8.

Chi approached March with 11 goals and 25 points, best among Class AAA players.

“I’ve had some teams try to be physical with him,” NA coach Mike Bagnato said. “But I don’t think it affects him, to be honest. You have some kids that get banged around, and it gets in their cage and they take penalties. He does not do that. He’s not afraid to be physical.”

A year ago, Chi played a supporting role as a sophomore winger with 10 goals and 20 assists. But NA graduated 12 seniors from that roster, including three leading goal scorers.

Now, he’s the team’s top-line center and a fixture on the power play.

“I definitely feel more responsibility to score,” he said. “I feel like if I can get my line going, then the rest of the team will get going as well.”

Chi already scored hat tricks against Mt. Lebanon and Butler. Against Mt. Lebanon, a 6-5 victory, he scored the winner over the goalie’s glove in overtime.

Since returning to the ice Jan. 11 after the governor’s statewide shutdown, Chi scored 13 points in the first seven games. That included two goals and an assist Feb. 23 against Seneca Valley.

“Since the end of December, he’s just been taking over games,” Bagnato said. “If you saw the Mt. Lebanon game, I won’t say he did it single-handedly, but he pretty much took the team on his shoulders and carried us through.

“He has just been playing dynamite.”

Bagnato said Chi is a good skater, has a “deadly” shot and is cagey with the puck. And like all good scorers, Bagnato added, he’s not afraid to shoot.

Chi’s season started slowly with no goals in five of his first six games.

And then to make matters worse, he dealt with a covid infection in December.

“I was definitely concerned because nobody really knew how it would affect me,” said Chi, who lost his sense of taste and smell. “I was concerned it could affect my endurance. … I definitely felt a little more winded than usual, but I think I’m back to normal now.”

Chi is only a junior, but Bagnato said he already is a team leader. As proof, Chi wears an “A” on his jersey as an alternate captain. When the team runs practice drills, Chi always leads the way.

“Connor is the first guy every time,” Bagnato said. “If your leader is the first guy, the rest of the team has no choice.”

Chi recognizes many opponents have a size advantage, but that doesn’t worry him.

“I don’t think it affects me that much,” he said. “As long as I keep my feet moving, I’m usually good.”

In fact, Chi scored twice in a mid-January win over Pine-Richland, which might have the class’s biggest lineup.

“I even hit a couple of kids, threw my body around as much as I could, just so that I’m not a complete target,” he said. “I try to even make them afraid of me, if I can.”

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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