PIHL players lead Team Pittsburgh to title at America’s High School Showcase

Monday, April 30, 2018 | 5:15 PM

Franklin Regional senior Nick Carretta connected on one of the biggest goals of his hockey career.

Carretta, one of 20 PIHL players on the Team Pittsburgh hockey team, scored in overtime on a power-play against Illinois in the USA Hockey America's High School Showcase championship game held in St. Louis.

Team Pittsburgh edged the two-time defending Illinois squad, 4-3, to claim the title.

“The tournament in St. Louis was one of the greatest experiences I have been a part of in my hockey career,” said Carretta, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound forward and four-year player at Franklin Regional. “The entire time I was there I had a blast; from obviously playing hockey to meeting and playing with a whole bunch of kids I had never met before. Also, in the hotel we had a lot of down time so I got to know everyone on the team that much more and just had a blast.

“It was very exciting to be crowned a national champion and bring the title back to Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, as we all know, (with) it being the ‘City of Champions,' we were pressured to live up to that expectation, which we did very well.”

Carretta's linemates, junior forwards Oldrich Virag, a Franklin Regional teammate, and Jared Gerger, from Hempfield, were credited with assists on the game-winning goal.

After Illinois was assessed a penalty for too many men on the ice, Carretta, who after graduation plans to either attend Ohio University for business or play junior hockey, ended the contest at the 5:23 mark of the overtime session following a Gerger shot on net.

“The rebound was sitting right in the crease, and my eyes got huge,” Carretta said. “I corralled the puck from inside the crease, pulled it around the goalie and put it into the net. After it went in and I knew we had won, everything after was basically a blur, knowing that we had just won a national championship.

“It was one of my most exciting moments in my hockey career. It is one of the biggest and best goals of my career because scoring a goal in overtime to win a national championship is a feeling that is indescribable.”

Elizabeth Forward senior Tyrik Barkley was the winning goaltender in the championship game.

The showcase event took place April 19-23 at the St. Peters Rec-Plex in St. Louis.

Team Pittsburgh posted a 6-0 record in the tournament and outscored the opposition by a 34-17 margin. The PIHL squad skated past Missouri Blue, 4-2; New Jersey, 7-3; Wisconsin, 8-4; Missouri White, 7-2; and Colorado Burgundy, 4-3; to advance to the championship game.

The South Hills area was represented by four players on the Pittsburgh team — senior defensemen Nick Antonio (Baldwin) and Michael Daley (Upper St. Clair); and junior forwards J.C. Bele (Bethel Park) and Wyatt George (Mt. Lebanon).

“Being a part of Team Pittsburgh was such an experience,” Antonio said. “I had never really played in a tournament with that type of competition. Going into the tournament, my main goal was just to see how I would be able to handle the speed and talent of the other players, let alone win the championship.

“Once we scored the game-winning goal in OT against Illinois, I was just filled with pure excitement. The entire tournament was such a blast, from the plane rides, to the bus rides to and from our games, and to just being around my teammates. It was an awesome time, and I'm glad we could bring back the win for 412.”

Gerger led the squad in scoring in the tournament with five goals and five assists. He was complemented offensively by senior forward Benjamin Kuzma (Quaker Valley), with five goals and four assists; J.C. Bele, who accounted for three goals and six assists; and junior forward Jace Rearic (Armstrong), with four goals and four assists.

Carretta ended up with four goals and three assists, while senior defenseman Matt Berner (North Hills) and Virag chipped in with three goals apiece.

Rounding out the squad were senior goaltender Sergio Benitez (Plum); senior forward Zachary Kutch (Armstrong); junior forwards Kellen Almady (West Allegheny), Ryan Brown (Connellsville), Wyatt George (Mt. Lebanon), Ben Leslie (Penn-Trafford) and Vincenzo Mazur (North Allegheny); and on defense, senior Patrick Roach (Mars) and juniors Tyler Duderstadt (North Allegheny) and Andrew Jacobs (Conneaut).

The team's head coach was Paul Bonetti (Chartiers Valley), and the assistants were Justin Glock (Baldwin) and Lee Grafton (Armstrong). Gina Colligan was general manager.

Against Illinois, Carretta and Virag posted one goal and one assist; Kuzma and Bele tacked on a goal apiece

“Now that Pittsburgh hockey has brought home another championship, it is up to the Pittsburgh Penguins to live up the name of ‘City of Champions' and bring home another Stanley Cup,” Carretta said.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

click me