NEVILLE TWP., Pa. — While the first PIHL Class A semi-final contest was a shootout, seeing a six-goal barrage help advance Montour, the second game of the semifinal doubleheader had much more of a defensive feel to it.
A tight defensive battle came down to just a few plays and South Fayette was able to make them to advance to the PIHL Penguins Cup Class-A finals with a 2-1 victory over West Allegheny.
Both goalies brought a strong reputation and both lived up to it with the lights shining brightest, particularly South Fayette’s Bruce Hardman, who made several big saves to allow the Lions to hold on to their one-goal lead.
Late in the second period, Hardman dove for a save but left the crease to do so. His rebound sat right in front of the net where multiple players crashed before South Fayette was able to clear the puck.
“We are a defense first team as we just witnessed,” stated South Fayette coach Ryan McGregor.
“With the defense in front of me it gives me a lot of confidence,” added Hardman.
In the third period, Hardman was able to return the favor for his teammate’s hard work in the crease. West Allegheny’s Tyler Howcroft was awarded a penalty shot with just over seven minutes to go in the game after Alexander Keller was whistled for holding. But Hardman held his ground.
“I have a lot of confidence with penalty shots,” Hardman stated. “I think that is my signature, I just go in with confidence and stay on angle.”
“Bruce has worked his butt off,” stated McGregor. “He is fundamentally sound and he believes he cannot be beaten. You just stay out his way and let him do his thing.”
The Lions’ lead came thanks to an inspired individual effort by Alexander Keller in the second period. Keller took the puck into the Indians zone, weaved around a defender, kept his balance and finished a beautiful goal to give his team the lead. It was a momentum inspiring performance.
McGregor struggled to put the goal into words post-game.
“All I can say is he is just a freshman,” McGregor laughed. “I was expecting someone to take him down, but when he slipped passed the third move I knew it was going in. We may need him to play every position for us moving forward.”
South Fayette started the game blazing. Tristan Cribben scored ten seconds into the game and the Lions got to ten shots before West Allegheny put five on net.
Still, West Allegheny fought tough and came back in the second period. Despite being outshot 12-6 in the first frame, West Allegheny tied up the shots and the score with a Jacob Gyergyo goal assisted by Kellen Almady.
The South Fayette Lions will be the team playing for the Penguins Cup. They will take on Montour Tuesday, March 19 at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.