By Matt Popchock
Given their grueling holiday schedule, which included four sudden-death games, followed by a double-OT triumph in the non-league Director's Cup Championship over Philadelphia Roman Catholic Wednesday afternoon, it would have been understandable if Bishop Canevin looked like a tired team late Wednesday evening. Apparently no one bothered to remind them.
The Crusaders (9-1-0), the consensus No. 3 team in Class AA, mustered enough energy to seize momentum in the third period and defeat consensus No. 5 West Allegheny 3-2 on junior forward Matt Walsh's goal 26 seconds into overtime in the nightcap at the Stage AE Community Rink next to Heinz Field. It was Canevin's second win over the Indians (7-3-2) in nine days.
"I knew if I kept shooting it would eventually go in...now I'm going to throw on the sheets and call it a day," Walsh said with a big grin.
"I'm sure these guys are going to enjoy what is a well-deserved [three-day] break," head coach Kevin Zielmanski added. "Our mindset was one of defiance and denial that we were tired, to realize we were in control of the game, and to just push forward."
Bishop Canevin now assumes the top spot in the Class AA standings, having taken an outright lead on Chartiers Valley in Section 3, while West Allegheny missed another opportunity to gain separation from Montour, which still trails the Section 2 leader by just two points.
If the Indians ever had a chance to catch the presumably vulnerable Crusaders, perhaps it was in the first period, when fatigue did seem to dog Canevin. Unlike the previous meeting, which Canevin controlled almost from start to finish, the teams began skating on even terms, and West Allegheny earned a late power play. Zack Daley, who made 17 saves in the victory, did his part to kill the penalty, though West A ended the first period with a 6-3 edge in shots on goal.
West Allegheny's work was rewarded just 1:20 into the second period, albeit during another penalty kill, when junior forward and leading scorer Jon Levitt forced a turnover at his own blue line and turned on the jets. Daley didn't challenge the shooter, and Levitt took what he got, firing the puck high behind the Canevin netminder for the game's first goal, his team-best 11th of the season and West Allegheny's fourth shorthanded tally as a team.
Rather than demoralize the Crusaders, it only seemed to provide the proverbial kick in the rear end they needed. Just over two minutes later JV call-up Garrett Godlewski evened the score with his third goal of the season, and shortly thereafter Walsh set up Frank Vance, whose team-leading tenth goal gave Bishop Canevin a 2-1 lead with 9:45 to go in the period.
"It shows you what I know," Zielmanski later joked, noting he had put Vance and Walsh on separate lines during the Director's Cup Tournament before pairing them up again for this contest.
However, any smile that might have lingered on his face disappeared when the Indians once again used their transition game to get back into it. A rare four-on-two scoring rush was not wasted, as John Kaltenecker, who had recently served a minor penalty, redeemed himself by tying the game on his sixth goal of the year, a wrist shot from point blank range with only 1:37 left till the ice cut.
All things considered, it's hard to fathom how Bishop Canevin had the stamina to carry the third period, and it's just as hard to fathom how the Crusaders had nothing to show for it by the time the final buzzer sounded. They were responsible for 14 of the 17 shots in the frame, but West Allegheny's Jason Kumpfmiller, who made 25 saves in defeat, turned them all aside to force overtime.
"There was all patience, no frustration," Walsh said of the Canevin bench as he and his mates prepared for OT. "We already had a lot of adrenaline, so we just wanted to go out there and give it all we've got."
Walsh certainly did that after the Crusaders took control of the opening faceoff. He skated around the West Allegheny net, spun around in the slot, and wristed a puck that snuck under the crossbar and past the outstretched glove of Kumpfmiller to end a long day on a joyous note. It was his sixth goal of the campaign, and one that caught Zielmanski by surprise.
"We were just hoping to get a couple pucks on net and slam home a rebound because of the ice conditions, and because [Kumpfmiller] is so good," he said.
Either way, it's four points in two tries against one darn good hockey team. Not a bad way to spend an evening on the North Shore.
"It's a nice punctuation mark on the first half of our season in an opportunity these kids might not get again."
BY THE WAY:
*Kaltenecker now has five goals in as many games after scoring just one in his first seven.
*Daley lowered his GAA to 2.48, which ranks third among Class AA starters. He, Kumpfmiller, and Woody Shell of Peters Township are the only starting goaltenders in the classification with seven wins.
*Bishop Canevin begins its second half schedule out of section Monday at Center Ice in Delmont versus Franklin Regional, while West Allegheny returns to the Mount Lebanon Ice Arena, where it lost to Canevin Dec. 20, to take on Chartiers Valley, the Crusaders' Section 3 nemesis, later that night.
Click here to relive any or all of the action from the second game of Wednesday's outdoor doubleheader, 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 next week on 937thefan.com!
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