HARMAR TWP., Pa. — The No. 3 IUP Hawks completed their upset run at Alpha Ice Complex Sunday afternoon, defeating the Pitt Panthers 4-1 behind strong defense and even stronger goaltending.
Hawks goaltender Jared Stahel saved 29 out of 30 shots to secure the program’s first conference championship and bid to the ACHA Tournament.
Ironically though, it was an offensive move that got the Hawks so excited. With just 6:31 left to play in the third period, and the score deadlocked at 1-1, Brendan George, the eventual CHMA Tournament MVP, elevated a puck over a diving Matt Snader to give the Hawks their first and only lead of the game. Less than a minute later, Mackenzie Schopfer sniped a shot from the blue line for the much-needed insurance. An empty net goal with just under a minute to play by Joey Ditullio sealed the 4-1 IUP victory.
Prior to the game, IUP head coach Joseph Honzo stressed the importance of defensive prowess and lessons learned after the Hawks squandered a two goal lead on Feb. 8 against the same Pitt team.
“Any one of their lines can put the puck in the net,” Honzo said. “I think the difference in the game is between the blue lines. We worked a ton at neutral ice and we plan on being very hard to play against.”
Honzo coached that plan to reality. After IUP goaltender Jared Stahel gave up a single goal just over halfway into the first period, the defense tightened up. Despite being outshot 11-2 and down a goal after the first period, IUP continued to make the game difficult for the Panthers to break open, as they are so often used to being able to do. Tyler Speis finally found the equalizer for the Hawks at 12:13 of the second period. With the second period shots on goal only 7-6 in favor of Pitt, Honzo’s plan was working.
Especially after the go-ahead goal by George, it was all IUP with the insurance and empty net goals to add insult to injury for Pitt. With the win, IUP clinched the conference’s automatic bid to the ACHA Tournament. Four other conference champions in Men’s Division 1 are currently ranked (No. 1 Adrian, No. 2 Liberty, No. 8 Arizona, and No. 14 Drexel). IUP gets the CHMA automatic bid and Niagara won the Northeast Collegiate Hockey League Tournament. With IUP and Niagara not being ranked, Pitt’s only hope for an ACHA Tournament bid is to remain ranked in the top-18 to avoid being bumped by either IUP or Niagara.
MAJOR FOCUS: IUP punches their ticket to face Pitt for the CHMA Championship