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"Mr. High School Sports" - Special Report: PIHL Winter Classic, Game 1

By Matt Popchock

After two periods Monday night Allderdice, which had managed the second-fewest goals in the Open Class entering the week, had seen its attack once again go as frigid as the single-digit wind chill that ripped through the North Shore.  But with little time remaining till what appeared to be an inevitable tenth consecutive loss, something strange happened on the way back to the hospitality tent.

Down 3-0, the Dragons (1-9-0) rallied for three goals in the final eight minutes of regulation, then senior forward Ryan Radovich scored his team-leading seventh of the season and second of the game with 1:46 left in overtime to give his team an improbable 4-3 victory over the Carrick Cougars (2-7-2) in the second installment of the PIHL "City Game" at the Stage AE Community Rink next to Heinz Field.

The team captain gave Allderdice its first win since rejoining the PIHL this fall, and for its Open Class Section 2 nemesis, it extended their winless streak to four games, a streak that has continued since Carrick crushed the Dragons three weeks ago.

"We talked about the things we had to do [after the second period], and how we simply had to go out and do them," Allderdice head coach Joe Buckley said, hinting at an absence of panic in his dressing room.  "Our kids have the skill to do it, they worked hard, and they played the game the way it should be played."

It was a night of firsts in other ways.  In addition to the beginning of perhaps the most unique event in league history, it was the first outdoor PIHL game to involve two Open Class programs, and the bundled-up masses also got to see Carrick forward Trey Niccoli and defenseman Robert Bowen score their first goals of the 2010-11 campaign in the first period.

Allderdice earned an early power play opportunity, but the Dragons were unable to get any shots on goal, so Carrick decided to crank up its pressure on the penalty kill and drew a call of its own on Richard Hoechstetter.  As the teams skated 4-on-4, Jordon Antkowiak fired a wrist shot from close range that was stopped, and fellow JV call-up Niccoli skated through a crowd untouched and lifted the rebound past second-string goaltender Alex Obringer to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead 3:39 into the game.

The teams would trade power plays twice more in the period, but each was limited due to overlapping minor penalties against the opponent.  Obringer, who was under siege much of the time, kept his mates within striking distance, though the Cougars put momentum squarely in their corner with only 16 seconds remaining in the first.  Bowen pulled up at the top of the right wing circle and slapped a shot that bounced past the Allderdice netminder to make it 2-0 Carrick at the break.

That momentum seemed to build with more good work by the Cougars' penalty kill.  The Dragons received more man-advantages in the second period, but every time they tried to find Radovich in space, Carrick played smart in its own zone, containing him and forcing him to make difficult plays.  Furthermore, the rest of Allderdice's forwards were unable to move the puck efficiently, looking slower and generally disorganized.

In contrast, the Cougars got their forecheck going by paying a physical price from Allderdice's bigger and more imposing D-men, and that investment paid off midway through the period.  Jacob Shrader breezed behind the Allderdice net, fed a wide-open Giovanni Oliverio standing in front of Obringer, and Oliverio, who had a hat trick in the last meeting with the 'Dice Dec. 3, finished off the easy one-timer, his sixth goal of the season, to give Carrick its third tally with 7:56 left.

Unable to generate consistent offensive pressure of any kind, the Dragons' predicament seemed like an inescapable one as the third period clock ticked down.  However, Obringer continued to do his duty until the Cougars backed off their own attack, and Allderdice made them pay for their complacency.

Skating with greater urgency, Allderdice forced Carrick to turn the puck over in the defensive zone, and the Dragons finally made the breakthrough play they needed with 8:20 left in the third.  Radovich beat his man to a loose puck along the boards and found Sam Conturo in the middle, who wristed it past stalwart goaltender Josh Brown to make it a 3-1 game.  Brown, who had already blanked the Dragons 8-0 at Ice Castle, was denied a shot at his third shutout of the year.

It looked like Conturo's goal, his fourth, would be moot when Hoechstetter took his third penalty of the game and was initially assessed extra time in the box, giving the Cougars another power play and a golden opportunity to put the game out of reach.  But again, Carrick got sloppy on defense and Radovich continued doing what good leaders do.  He intercepted an ill-advised pass right in front of Brown and in one motion tucked it inside the near post to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 1:39 to go.

"When I found the puck I saw that [Brown's] leg had left an opening, and that's why I went for that spot," Radovich later said.

In addition, the officials, in the first of two controversial but equally important decisions, rescinded their bonus unsportsmanlike conduct call, allowing Hoechstetter to return to the ice before the end of regulation.  That unusual change proved to be an important one, because he would change the complexion of the game for good after Buckley used his timeout.

Carrick, like most observers, had been caught thinking the game was over after two periods, and saw its seemingly insurmountable lead evaporate just seconds later when Josh Kowalecki tripped over the attempted poke-check of an Allderdice player while trying to skate the puck out of his own zone.  There was no whistle, and none of the Cougars bothered to cover Hoechstetter, fresh out of the box, who blasted it by Brown for his fourth goal of the season to force overtime.

Left trying to figure out what the heck hit them, the Cougars did generate a couple more scoring chances in the final moments of regulation, and continued pressing the issue in the five-minute sudden death period until Radovich played hero again.  He out-hustled two would-be Carrick defenders to a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated in tight, and beat Brown cleanly with a wrist shot to his glove side for the game-winning goal.

Radovich was mobbed by the Dragons after flopping to the ice a la Darius Kasparaitis, and Buckley echoed that enthusiasm when looking into the future of his previously struggling team.

"We now have a nice note to open on for the second half of our season.  I'm real excited, and I think you can hear in the background that the kids are excited too.

"I'm hoping it all comes together now."


*Allderdice had previously gone 0-5-1 against Carrick since rejoining the PIHL in 2006, the lone point coming in a 5-5 tie against the Cougars Jan. 25, 2008.

*Radovich's two-goal effort was only the third multiple-goal game of the season by an Allderdice player.  Conturo has one to his credit, and Radovich had another versus Morgantown Dec. 9.

*Oliverio now has a point in four of his last five games after being held off the scoresheet altogether in five of his first six this season.

Click here to relive any or all of the action from Monday's game, thanks to my friends at the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions.

For continuing coverage of the PIHL Winter Classic, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports on later this week!

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