By Matt Popchock
Seneca Valley goaltender Mike Singel was more than happy to share his hand-warmers with us on one of the chilliest Friday nights of the year.
To essentially give away free warmth was no big deal, because he was plenty fired up after a tremendous moral victory for his program.
In perhaps the finest performance of his scholastic career, Singel turned aside 48 shots and withstood Post-Gazette No. 3 North Allegheny's onslaught while fellow senior Noah Wallace scored a third-period power play goal to give the struggling Raiders (2-9-1) a 3-3 tie with the Tigers (10-3-2) in the second game of the 2011 PIHL Outdoor Charity Series at North Park Ice Rink.
Both teams earned a point in the standings and earned even more off the ice by raising money from ticket sales for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
"We're fighting for every point we can get, and NA is a great team, so this is a great outcome for us," Singel said. "They have a lot of talent out there...so we played real defensively.
"We're a bunch of grinders, so we dumped the puck and made them chase it on the bigger ice. It slowed them down."
It was a game much closer than many outside Singel and head coach Dennis Kirstein would have imagined, as NA had blasted its Class AAA Section 2 rival 8-0 in Warrendale about two months prior.
Timing was everything for these combatants, who traded blows late in each of the first two periods. Each team scored within the final minute of the first frame, and North Allegheny took a 3-2 lead on a shot officials agreed had crossed the line just before the second-period buzzer sounded.
"I actually feel like this was a win for us," an excited Kirstein said afterward. "We can talk about that one at the end of the second period forever, but we'll take it. Our kids really worked hard, and give credit to North Allegheny.
"Our kids know how to play, so we just wanted an emotional, gritty, tough game, which I feel we got. It was an awesome event."
With 48 seconds left in the first defenseman Dalton Landon got involved in the Tigers' forecheck and was rewarded with his fourth goal of the year on a wrist shot from the left wing. Seneca answered 36 seconds later when sophomore Luke Reed alertly tipped a rebound behind goaltender Matthew Goda after Chris Marziotto had crashed into the junior netminder on a partial breakaway.
John Mammay lifted a backhand shot over a prone Singel to give a 2-1 edge to NA just 1:21 into the second frame amidst complaints from Seneca Valley players that forward Ryan Worsena, who got the lone assist, had interfered with their goaltender.
Things evened out five minutes later, however, when senior forward Chad Parise blasted a puck past Goda from just inside the blue line shortly after a North Allegheny penalty. It was his third goal of the season, all of them coming on the man-advantage.
Matt Neurohr netted his seventh goal of the year just as the second period clock expired to give the Tigers another one-goal lead, crashing the net and forcing a loose puck past Singel. Though no official goal announcement was made right away, the play stood after some deliberation, but Wallace and the Raiders would not allow controversy to rule the night.
An elbowing call midway through the third set the table for just his second goal of the campaign, as he fired a pass from Parise through traffic and into the twine from roughly the same spot as Parise's earlier tally.
"[North Allegheny] doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Kirstein said. "But given the bigger ice surface and the elements, we definitely tried to just sit back and take advantage of whichever ones they made."
With NA by and large controlling offensive zone time for the remainder of regulation and most of the five-minute overtime Singel had to be at his best, and he was.
The road to the Penguins Cup Playoffs is still a long one for Seneca Valley, which remains an outsider with regards to the Class AAA picture, but goalie and coach both smiled a little easier on this night.
"I told the kids afterward it's time to start climbing," Kirstein said of his fledgling team, just a year removed from consecutive Penguins Cup Final appearances. "This was our Winter Classic, our Bruce Boudreau moment."
BY THE WAY:
*Seneca Valley entered this game with just seven power play goals on the season, second-fewest in Class AAA.
*The 48 saves by Singel were his highest single-game total since rejoining the team this season, and the first 40-save effort by a Seneca Valley goaltender since Nick Miller posted 40 saves in a 6-0 loss to North Allegheny in Warrendale Dec. 20, 2005.
*Goda remains second among all Class AAA goaltenders with a 1.82 GAA and .920 save percentage.
(UPDATE: Seneca Valley was shut out by Shaler in non-section play Monday, and North Allegheny was upset by Hempfield in a Tuesday non-section contest the Tigers played under protest from head coach Jim Black.)
(Click here to relive any or all of the action from the second game of the PIHL Outdoor Charity Series, thanks to my friends at the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions.)
For continuing coverage of the Outdoor Charity Series, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports soon on 937thefan.com!
for more features.