By Matt Popchock
As the adage goes, it just takes one.
It just took one shot for Latrobe to earn a difficult victory on the road, and it would have taken Bishop Canevin just one shot to rewrite the script.
Shane Brudnok and his defensemen didn't let it happen.
The sophomore netminder pitched his Class AA-best fourth shutout of the year by making 22 saves to preserve a 3-0 non-section win over the Crusaders (11-4-0), the consensus No. 3 team in the classification, at Mount Lebanon Ice Arena Monday night.
The Wildcats (12-2-1), the consensus No. 2, tied Peters Township for the number one Penguins Cup Playoff seed, extending their winning streak to seven. Canevin has now dropped three of its last four and lost its grip on Section 3 to Chartiers Valley, but still sits fourth overall in Class AA.
One notable absence for the Crusaders was All-Star Frank Vance, who was serving the back end of a suspension for picking up a game misconduct in a previous PIHL contest. Bishop Canevin's offense, one of the more productive ones in the classification, never seemed entirely in sync, though it had golden opportunities to affect the outcome.
"Defensively we lost four guys from last year, so that was a question mark at the beginning of the year," Ridder said. "But these guys have stepped up; they've learned their roles, and they're learning our system."
"We don't take any opponent lightly," said Brudnok, who leads the classification in GAA (1.62) and save percentage (.924). "They're missing a key player, but they still had some great opportunities."
Freshman sensation Randy Unger had a partial breakaway broken up early in the first period before he could get off a clean shot. Chris Reda had a wide-open net to shoot at later in the period, but was unable to elevate the puck and instead shoveled it into Brudnok's body on his wrap-around. Peter Karney hit a post during a two-man advantage early in the second, and Brudnok survived a mad scramble in the crease midway through the third, as Latrobe entered and exited the building with 21 goals allowed, still the fewest in Class AA.
"This is a hard-working team, I've seen that since the beginning of the year," Ridder added. "They're willing to do things to keep the game simple."
With five minutes gone by in the opening frame, Latrobe was awarded a two-man advantage, and needed just four seconds of that power play time to cash in. Another freshman, Christopher Johnson, tipped in his eighth goal of the season between Zack Daley's legs off a feed from senior forward Zach LaDuke to give the 'Cats a 1-0 lead with 9:38 left.
It was the first official shot on goal for either team. Daley, who made 13 saves in defeat, settled down and kept his team within range the rest of the way, though another man-advantage for the Wildcats late in the second period took away much of Canevin's swagger.
Unger went off for illegal head contact and LaDuke, the Class AA scoring leader with 51 points, stopped in the middle of the zone unfettered, and deflected a shot from the right point that bounced sharply past Daley for a 2-0 Latrobe lead with 4:36 till the ice cut. That 27th goal tied Chartiers Valley's Justin Sabilla for tops in the classification.
Just three minutes later, Josh Singley, whose earlier faceoff win helped set up the game-winning goal, provided the final margin when he camped out along the goal line and LaDuke made a nice pass from the right side to set up an easy one-timer. It was the sophomore's 14th of the campaign.
"That line's been producing great things for us all year," Ridder said. "We feel that our other lines have started to come along lately too, but Zach, Josh, and Chris have done a really good job."
Brudnok slammed the door in the Crusaders' collective face for the rest of the night, his teammates killing off a couple more penalties and offering their usual brand of reliable support.
"They stayed strong in front of me," Brudnok said of his blue-liners.
"We're just trying to build toward the playoffs, and treat every game like a playoff game," Ridder said.
BY THE WAY:
*LaDuke now owns a 13-game goal streak, and 24 of his goals have come at even strength. That power play tally was his first since a Dec. 6 loss to Peters Township. He has 22 points (8 G + 14 A) in four January games.
*Brudnok, who owns two victories against Canevin within the same month, owns a personal six-game win streak, and has allowed two or fewer goals to five opponents in that span.
*With an even 40 points, Singley moved up to fourth in the Class AA scoring race, though Sabilla of Chartiers Valley is still the top underclassman scorer with 44 points.
(UPDATE: Latrobe defeated Section 4 rival Franklin Regional for its eighth straight win, while Bishop Canevin defeated Gateway later in the week.)
(Click here to relive any or all of the action from our Game of the Week, thanks to my friends at the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions.)
For continuing coverage of the PIHL and Penguins Cup Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!
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