Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

PIHL

Major Focus: St. Margaret Fall Faceoff semifinal galleries

North Allegheny defenseman Evan Barnhart (38) controls the puck against Baldwin forward Carson Kress during a PIHL preseason game at Alpha ICe Complex on Monday, Sep. 13, 2021. -- ED MAJOR II

HARMAR TWP., Pa. — After two years, the St. Margaret Fall Faceoff returned to Alpha Ice Complex in 2021, as 16 teams entered, but only one came out victorious. The North Allegheny Tigers won the preseason tournament for the eighth time in their history Monday, defeating  the Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils, 5-4, in a shootout. The path to the championship wasn’t easy, though. While Mt. Lebanon cruised past the Seneca Valley Raiders, 4-1, in the first semifinal, North Allegheny needed eight rounds of a shootout to defeat the Baldwin Highlanders, 3-2, in the second semifinal.

Blue Devils cruise past the Raiders

Mt. Lebanon’s semifinal win was never in doubt once the team finally got on the scoreboard. Scoring chances were plentiful for both sides, but the teams were deadlocked through most of the first two periods. Finally, Ryan Patrick, on the Blue Devils’ second power play of the game, broke the scoreless tie with just 20 seconds left in the second period.

Marcus Simmonds added to the lead with a shorthanded goal halfway through the third period before Brady Conrardy extended the lead to 3-0. Patrick scored his second of the game just 39 seconds later to create in insurmountable 4-0 lead. Mt. Lebanon took advantage of sloppy puck movement from Seneca Valley to put an end to any thoughts the Raiders had of a comeback. Shane Kozlina scored the lone goal for Seneca Valley late in the third period, but it wasn’t enough. Patrick’s two goals and stellar goaltending from Tommy Schubert propelled Mt. Lebanon into the championship game.

North Allegheny holds off Baldwin comeback

In what was its unofficial Class-3A debut, the Baldwin Highlanders found themselves outskated and outshot early in the contest against North Allegheny. Facing a 2-0 deficit in the third period, Trevor Belak scored 2:46 into the period and Tanner Plinta tied the game with just four minutes remaining to force a shootout.

It wasn’t so easy early on, though. Through most of the first period, Baldwin had put up just 2 shots on goal to North Allegheny’s 12. Still, stellar goaltending from Eddie Nowicki kept the Tigers off the board. Early in the second period, Trey Gallo broke the tie on a 5-on-3 power play to give North Allegheny the 1-0 lead. Shane O’Neill slipped a puck under Nowicki’s pad midway through the period to extend that lead to 2-0. Outgunned, Baldwin looked to their stars to save the day; and the stars delivered as Belak and Plinta tied the game. Then it was all up to the goaltenders.

Nowicki stood tall, as did his counterpart Andrew Long. But eventually, one of them had to blink first. In the eighth round, it was Nowicki. Kyle Holmes rifled a wrist shot under Nowicki’s glove to give North Allegheny the 3-2 win and promptly skated back to his teammates to celebrate their ticket to the championship game.

Nowicki saved 41 of 43 shots in regulation and seven of eight in the shootout. Long stopped 23 of 25 in regulation and all eight shots in the shootout.

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