CRANBERRY TWP, Pa. — The Franklin Regional Panthers are the 2017 PIHL Class A Penguins Cup Champions.
The Panthers defeated the Indiana Indians by a score of 6-1 to clinch their second consecutive Penguins Cup Championship. Under head coach Brian Kurtz, who is in his fourth season with the team, the Panthers have continued their dominant run throughout the regular season and now will play for the Pennsylvania Cup.
Winning the Penguins Cup was familiar ground for the Panthers as the team won the Penguins Cup last season. Panthers forward Jamie Mauro said that this championship felt just as good as last years and is a positive representation of the program.
“It’s awesome winning back-to-back Penguins Cups,” said Mauro. “We’ve never had one before last year and now we’ve won two in a row.”
Panthers forward Cameron Huffman, who scored a huge goal in the second period to put the Panthers up 3-0, thinks that the win helped boost the reputation of the club.
“The second time, it feels pretty good,” said Huffman. “It shows that we can play and compete in this league for a long time.”
Kurtz also believes the championship is a great way to improve the reputation of the club. With this being the team’s second Penguins Cup Championship, Kurtz hopes that the win can help with the team’s recruiting process.
“This championship means everything,” Said Kurtz. “These kids have been here when the times were tough and now they’re experiencing when the times were good. They’ve earned this all the way, and with this win, it just brings more interest to the program and gives us more depth moving forward.”
Going into the last game of the regular season, the Panthers looked to finish with 18 wins: an undefeated season. In the team’s final game before the playoffs, a matchup against Bishop McCort, the Panthers dropped the game and lost 5-1. Huffman noted that the loss to Bishop McCort was a turning point for his team.
“Going into the playoffs, it was a wake up call in a sense that we knew we weren’t unbeatable,” said Huffman. “We learned that we have to play a good team game to win.”
FAMILIAR FACE DOMINATES
Mauro, who was second in Class A scoring behind only Indiana forward Pat O’Neal, used his lightning-fast speed to help provide offense for the Panthers. Mauro noted, however, that O’Neal has been a prolific scorer for the Indians and the team’s plan was to shut him down.
“We thought that if we could shut down Pat, we felt that we could win this game,” said Mauro.
Mauro did more for the team than just shut down O’Neal defensively. Mauro recorded four assists in the game to help lead the Panthers to an outstanding six goals in the game. Mauro and his offensive counterpart, Oldrich Virag, have had outstanding chemistry the entire season. Virag recorded two goals in the game, which included a perfectly placed shot in the top-left corner of the net to put the Panthers on the board. Mauro credited Virag to the win and explained the relationship between the two.
“We both know where each other are going to be,” said Mauro. “We both have a sense of each other on the ice and it helps with our chemistry,” said Mauro.
ONE FINAL GAME
While the Panthers are the Penguins Cup champions, the celebration will be cut short as the team pursues a Pennsylvania State Championship.
“We’re not done,” said Kurtz. “We won last year and were satisfied with that. This year, the theme was unfinished business. We’re enjoying this, but we have a greater goal in mind and that’s to win the state championship.”
Last season, the Panthers faced the Bayard Rustin Knights in a battle for the state’s ultimate hockey prize: the Pennsylvania Cup. The Panthers, as Kurtz suggested, were comfortable with just the Penguins Cup win and eventually lost in the Pennsylvania Cup Finals last year. This year, however, Kurtz noted that the team is all-in to win the state championship.
“We’re a different team,” said Kurtz. “We’ve been there once so I think we’re more prepared mentally. … This year is a different team and we’re excited about the matchup.”
The Knights won the Flyers Cup once again this year and will face the Panthers in the battle for the state championship. Huffman said that the team needs to be prepared for the rematch of the two region champions.
“We’re gonna have to play a good defensive game,” said Huffman. “We played Bayard Rustin and know how good they are.”
The Panthers will be ready for the Knights this year, and from the sounds of coach Kurtz, the Panthers will be more than ready to claim the Pennsylvania Cup this year.
“This year is all about winning the state championship,” said Kurtz. “We’re much better offensively and we want payback for last year. We have that little bit of fire in us to go out there and get the win.”