CECIL TOWNSHIP, Pa. — It started in frenetic fashion and ended as tight as can be, but the result was once again familiar.
For the seventh consecutive year, Peters Township opened the Penguins Cup playoffs with a win on home ice, edging Erie Cathedral Prep, 3-2, at Printscape Arena to advance to next Thursday’s semifinal round.
All five goals Tuesday were scored over a six-minute span in the first period, with the third-seeded Indians (15-6-0) jumping ahead 3-0 before the visiting Ramblers connected twice in two minutes to reintroduce maximum drama.
That intensity continued all the way through, but Peters Township enjoyed a 18-5 shot advantage over the final two frames, squeezing the life out of the game and handing Cathedral Prep (12-7-2) its first regulation loss in exactly three months.
“We had a week break (before the game),” Indians senior captain Mark Lehman said. “Leave it all out there and see how it went.”
Peters Township, which has gone to three straight Penguins Cup finals, hoisting the trophy in 2017, has outscored its past seven quarterfinal opponents by a combined 27-6 count, dating back to the successful 2014 Pens Cup run.
Junior Gavin Dabkowsky got credit for this year’s game-winner with roughly five minutes left in the first, poking a loose puck over the goal line when Ramblers goalie Seth Faulkner lost track of Christian Biscardo’s stuff attempt.
But the Indians were able to hold off a powerful Cathedral Prep side because they kept the pedal down following an early penalty kill. The Ramblers had averaged over four goals per game over their past nine games, entering the playoffs on an 8-0-1 surge.
“I knew we were going to have to come out strong,” Lehman said. “They’re a great team and it was going to be a close battle. Popping those three in quick was big for us.”
At the 9:19 mark, top scorer Lehman whistled a heavy left-circle shot off the crossbar for his 22nd goal of the season, beating Faulkner’s glove. The Indians made it 2-0 just 88 seconds later, when junior Dylan McElhinney dumped a backhand deke into the net to cap a 2-on-1 rush with senior Jack Zaken.
Dabkowsky finished the stunning burst against Faulkner, who entered the game with Class AAA’s best save percentage at .924.
“He’s a good goalie so we had to pepper him with shots,” Lehman said. “From any angle, as long as it’s on net.”
Speaking of goaltending, Indians senior Alex Wilbert improved to 11-2 in the Penguins Cup playoffs with Tuesday’s 12-save victory.
While Cathedral Prep perforated him twice before the end of the first, neither Samuel Gasper’s deflected point shot nor Jordan Adams’ rebound tally was a clean look.
The Ramblers generated a few more opportunities in the final two periods, but none better than Adams’ point-blank chance late in the first that he rang off Wilbert’s mask.
From there, the Indians enjoyed a 10-1 shot advantage in the second, followed by a third period in which they seemed to have the puck about three-quarters of the time. A notable stretch late saw the home team grind out several consecutive shifts in the offensive zone, preventing Faulkner from getting to the bench until 25 seconds remained.
A final faceoff win from Lehman and a subsequent clear sent Peters Township to a familiar destination. The Indians will play for yet another final berth next Thursday, March 12, at 9 p.m. at the RMU Island Sports Center, with seventh-seeded Seneca Valley providing opposition. Peters Township split the two-game season series with the Raiders, winning at home and losing on the road.
As for the Ramblers, they once again finished a season strong, but senior 19-goal winger Jake Kruszewski was held off the scoresheet one week after scoring twice in a 4-3 overtime loss at Peters Township that closed the regular season.
Cathedral Prep, which will graduate 11 seniors, fell to 5-4 in the Penguins Cup playoffs since jumping back to Class AAA for the 2015-16 season. The Ramblers were 9-1-0 at home in 2019-20, but just 3-6-2 on the road.