Peters Township, Upper St. Clair earn trips to PIHL Class 3A Penguins Cup finals
Tuesday, March 14, 2023 | 12:26 AM
Last season, Peters Township won the PIHL Class 3A Penguins Cup. The top-seeded Indians will have a chance to defend that title after a 4-0 win over No. 4 North Allegheny on Monday night at Robert Morris’ Island Sports Center.
Peters Township had a distinct territorial edge from the outset and a big shot advantage, but couldn’t crack the scoreboard until the 10:05 when Austin Malley netted his third goal of the playoffs.
The period ended 1-0 despite the Indians outshooting the Tigers, 24-6.
The Indians broke the game open with three goals in the second period.
Luca Maietta scored from a bad angle less than two minutes in, then Peters Township scored twice in 48 seconds to take a 4-0 lead.
“Even with a four-goal lead in the third period, against NA,” Peters Township coach Rick Tingle said, “I’m not comfortable until there is three minutes left. It’s good to move on and get an opportunity to play next week.”
Anthony Labellarte scored on a Cole Neupaver rebound at 13:54, and Troy Jones converted a Cam Martin feed at 14:32 to open up the four-goal lead.
“It was big to get the 4-0 lead in the second,” Tingle said. “We came out and tried to be a little bit smarter with the puck and it turned out all right.”
Junior goaltender Kyle Thomas made the lead stand up, with 20 saves to post the shutout for the Indians.
Peters Township (18-3-1) outshot North Allegheny, 48-20, on the night. Senior Rylan Murphy was busy for the Tigers (13-6-3), making 44 saves in his final start.
“The guys were ready to go and they jumped on it from the beginning,” Tingle said.
In the night cap, No. 7 Upper St. Clair came from behind to defeat No. 6 Pine-Richland, 6-4, behind four third-period goals.
“It’s just a bunch of guys that didn’t want to quit,” Upper St. Clair coach Dave Stock said. “It’s an older team; we have 13 seniors and they just collectively decided that we’re going to keep playing”
The Rams’ Zach Howard and Panthers’ Colin Ruffner traded first period goals, and after Josh Lanyard gave Pine-Richland a 2-1 lead, Ruffner struck again to tie the game at 2-2. The Rams took their final lead at 8:32 of the second period when Josh Folmer netted his first goal of the playoffs.
But the top line for the Panthers of Ruffner, Zach Hardy and Aaron Stawiarski went to work in the third.
Hardy set up Ruffner for the hat trick at 4:33 to tie the game at 3-3.
Ruffner returned the favor on a 2-on-1 break, feeding Hardy for his first of the playoffs and the eventual game-winner at 8:48.
That duo combined again 43 seconds later, when Hardy found Ruffner all alone in front of the Pine-Richland net after a faceoff for his fourth goal of the game.
Stawiarski buried an empty-net goal late to make the final score 6-3.
Ruffner (4 goals, assist), Hardy (goal, 4 assists) and Stawiarski (goal, assist) combined for 12 points; the trio has a total of 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in two playoff wins for the Panthers.
Stock pointed to the maturation of his top line as the characteristic that put his team over the top.
“Those are three supremely talented individuals and we’ve known that for a long time,” he said. “Their evolution as people and their evolution as leaders is why we’re here (in the finals). They didn’t get down, they were amazing examples for the younger players.”
Louis Liberatore made 22 saves for the Panthers (13-8-1).
The Rams saw their season end at 12-9-1.
Upper St. Clair and Peters Township, who split the regular season series with one win apiece, will face off next Monday at the at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.
“Upper St. Clair has two of the best scorers, if not the two best scorers in the league,” Tingle said. “It’s going to be tough; there’s no doubt about that.”
“That’s a team that is also supremely talented,” Stock said. “They’ve got top level guys just like we do. It’s going to be a matter of limiting them, but our game plan is going to be Upper St. Clair-centric. When we are going and playing our game, we feel very confident.”
Tags: North Allegheny, Peters Township, Pine-Richland, Upper St. Clair
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