CRANBERRY TWP., Pa. — Justin Day scored with 3:01 to play in the third period to give Ringgold a 4-3 victory and clinch the 2019 PIHL Division 2 championship for the Rams over the Burrell Buccaneers.
Day’s 24th goal of the 2018-19 season and his second of the postseason put Ringgold back on top after a furious Burrell comeback knotted things in the second period.
The Bucs, who entered the postseason as the top seed in Division 2, saw themselves staring at a 3-1 deficit midway through the game, but then Ringgold got admittedly sloppy, according to head coach Rick Kalinowski, and Burrell was able to tie things up.
“When we were up 3 to 1, we had to play smart and then all of the sudden all hell broke loose,” he shared after the game.
Ringgold took a penalty, and then Giovanni Palombo scored on a point shot off a faceoff on the power play at 10:11 of the second. Just 1:39 seconds after, Dylan Zelonka tapped home a Tyler Stewart feed to score his second goal of the game at 11:50 to make the score 3-3.
Just like that, it was tied. A few minutes later, Stewart had a chance to give Burrell its first lead of the game with 44 seconds remaining in the second, when he was awarded a penalty shot after being tripped by Ryan Marek.
But Ringgold goaltender Evan Cook stood his ground and the talented Stewart, who was the division’s regular-season leader in goals (50) and points (76), fired his attempt wide to the left. Despite not having to make a save, Cook’s confidence was evident as Stewart approached. His demeanor stands out to his coach.
Tyler Stewart gets a penalty shot for Burrell pic.twitter.com/UFelDbD3Qz
— Mitch (@PHD_Mitch) March 18, 2019
“Cookie is a stud,” Kalinowski remarked. “He’s a stud. I said it all year long I said it last year. He showed up to play tonight and is one of the true leaders on this team.”
After the dust settled, the teams went into the locker room tied 3-3.
“Then between periods I kind of went off on them,” Kalinowski admitted. “We went off our entire game plan.”
This message was well-received by the players, now knowing what was necessary to get back on track to complete their mission.
“We had some good talks in the locker room,” Evan Cook said after the game. “We all realized what we had to do and we went out and took care of business.”
The teams came out for the third, traded some grade-A scoring chances, and more checks, over the first 14 or so minutes. After Day’s decisive goal, Ringgold was able to fight off the final push from Burrell to secure their first title since 2010.
The teams got off to a fast, physical start with numerous big hits and saves on both sides. The teams then traded penalties which led to some four-on-four play about halfway through the frame. Nolan Schroeder, who had been hit and injured minutes earlier, started the scoring for Ringgold at 8:54 of the first when he took a shot from the circle that tipped past Burrell netminder Andrew Burkett.
Just after the four-on-four, while technically shorthanded but before the Ringgold player was back in the play, Dylan Zelonka rushed up the ice and scored his first goal of the evening to tie things up.
But Schroeder found his mark again in the waning moments of the first period, when he deposited a centering feed from Evan Eberlein behind Burkett.
As the team’s captain, Schroeder definitely led by example in this big game. The rest of the team followed his lead, which their coach definitely noticed.
“He (Schroeder) stepped his game up,” head coach Rick Kalinowski remarked after the game. “You saw him, and his whole line stepped their game up. Then we had the second line and then our third line guys, Saylor, he played a hell of a game tonight. We saved him for his wheels and you saw him in the third he had his wheels when nobody else had them.”
At 7:34 of the second, just after a big save by Cook, Burrell turned the puck over in the offensive zone and it was picked up by Bujdos, who had a breakaway and scored a beautiful goal to give the Rams a two-goal cushion. Kalinowski summed it all up with a brief, yet heartfelt statement.
“We did it, we flipped the script,” he said.
Cook, who finished with 33 saves on 36 shots for the championship victory echoed his coach’s feelings, reflecting that the struggles of previous years definitely made the victory feel that much sweeter.
“It means so much,” Cook remarked. “Last year and the year before that we lost in the playoffs, so it feels so good to come out on top, finally beat Burrell, and show them who’s the better team.”