GATES MILLS, OH. — The John Carroll Blue Streaks used stellar goaltending from Martin Moine and a timely power play goal from Patrick Gilbert with less than four minutes remaining in the game to defeat the Pitt Panthers for the third time in six years at the CHMA Championship, 3-1, Sunday at Gilmour Academy Ice Arena. The Blue Streaks have earned the conference’s automatic bid to the ACHA National Tournament in St. Louis, Missouri Mar. 10-15, 2022.
The Panthers put together one of the most remarkable seasons in CHMA history. Going 25-3-1 overall and 13-0-1 in conference play, the No. 12 ranked Panthers ran through one of the toughest schedules they could have put together and found a way to thrive. Going 5-3 combined against No. 23 Delaware, No. 22 Rhode Island, No. 14 Ohio, and No. 19 Niagara to start the season – all on the road – prepared them to run through a conference schedule without a regulation loss – until the big game. One might say Pitt has trouble in big games. They haven’t won the conference championship in six years. In conference championship games since the victory in 2016, the panthers lost to John Carroll in 2017 and 2018 and to IUP in 2020. This season, Pitt believed it was their time to get over that hump. But John Carroll had a different idea. The Blue Streaks did what no other team was able to do this season: hold the panthers scoreless for two frames. Then, the unthinkable happened.
Gilbert took advantage of a John Carroll power play to slap a one-timer from Sean Deakin past Pitt goaltender Devin Barresi and into the back of the Panther net to give the Blue Streaks a 2-1 advantage. That proved to be all John Carroll needed, save for an insurance empty-net goal from James Grable, to seal the 3-1 win for the CHMA Championship.
But it wasn’t that easy through the first two periods. The Panthers and the Blue Streaks were battling back and forth to no avail. Barresi kicked away every John Carroll shot. Martin Moine caught everything in his glove from the Panthers’ sticks. It was unfamiliar territory for Pitt, but John Carroll had the Panthers right where they wanted them.
“They’re a great team, we’ve played them close all year,” said Gilbert after the game. “We stuck to our game plan.”
Finally, the scoreless tie was broken just over two minutes into the third period. Oldrich Virag barreled into the offensive zone on a Panther power play and put a wrist shot past Moine. It looked like Pitt would win 1-0 after that. That was how close the game was. But a few minutes later, Tyler Putnam, a North Allegheny product out of Wexford, PA, tied the game once more for the Blue Streaks, 1-1. It was back to the drawing board For both teams. It was all either team could do, as with the first two periods, to gain the advantage. In the end, it was Gilbert’s goal with less than four minutes remaining that proved to be the difference maker.
John Carroll will most likely be the No. 20 and final seed in the ACHA Men’s Division 1 Tournament in St. Louis Mar. 10-15. The Blue Streaks will replace the No. 20 ranked team.
Pitt, currently ranked No. 12, has a chance for an at-large bid provided they remain ranked in the top-20 when the final rankings come out on Feb. 23 and after the conference champions who are not ranked receive their bids.
It would be the first time since 2015 that the conference has sent multiple teams to the national tournament. That year, John Carroll hosted the national tournament and was given the No. 20 seed by default. Robert Morris was the No. 18 seed by winning the CHMA regular season championship.
“The CHMA is better than it has ever been and stronger than it has ever been,” said John Carroll head coach Scott Shantery.
On a side note, it is possible that Pitt and John Carroll could meet in the first round of the national tournament. If Pitt falls one spot to No. 13 and John Carroll takes the No. 20 seed, the two would face each other in the first round.