For the first 23 minutes against Latrobe, Pine-Richland seemed to have a measure of control. At the very least, it was competing in a closely contested championship on the same ice where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play.
Then, in a matter of seconds, it disappeared.
Latrobe got back-to-back second-period goals from Dalton Hunter and Adam Ferguson in a 25-second span to turn a tenuous one-goal edge into a comfortable lead that helped propel the Wildcats to a 5-0 victory against the Rams in the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup championship Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.
"It was an awesome performance," Latrobe coach John Winebrenner said. "We stuck to our game plan the whole way through."
Providing a solid, steadying presence in net throughout, Wildcats goalie Shane Brudnok recorded his second shutout of the tournament by stopping 24 shots.
Hunter, a freshman forward tied for second on the team with 19 goals in the regular season, scored two goals and had an assist for Latrobe.
Throughout the 2012-13 PIHL season, Pine-Richland and Latrobe emerged as two of the best teams in Class AA. They split their season series, with the Wildcats (19-3-0) winning in early December before the Rams (16-5-1) returned the favor Feb. 13 with a 3-2 victory.
If anything, the Penguins Cup championship stood as a rubber match, albeit one that got off to a slow start. The first period ended scoreless, as neither team was able to capitalize on power-play opportunities.
But for two teams that averaged more than six goals per game in the regular season, the offense was only subdued for so long -- at least for Latrobe.
Nearly eight minutes into the second period, defenseman Daniel Staffen, who scored just two goals in the regular season and had yet to record a point in two previous Penguins Cup games, found the back of the net on an assist from Hunter to give Latrobe a 1-0 lead.
The goal came seconds after a Pine-Richland player was sent to the penalty box, giving the previously short-handed Wildcats an even four-on-four situation.
Unfortunately for Pine-Richland, there was more to come from the Wildcats.
Not three minutes later, Hunter got his third goal in three postseason games to double the lead. Before the time of the goal was even announced, the horn blared again as Ferguson scored to push the lead to 3-0 with 6:05 left in the period.
"We made a couple of little mistakes and when you make a couple of little mistakes with those guys, they capitalize on them," Pine-Richland coach Michael Bagnato said. "When they capitalize, you get a little too far behind and then you're pressing and they're feeling good."
The Latrobe lead increased in the third as Hunter scored his second goal of the game, this time on a power play, to extend the lead to 4-0.
For Brudnok and his fellow seniors, who won the Penguins Cup their freshman season in 2010, the win provided a satisfying moment heading into the Pennsylvania Cup championship against Cherokee.
"It means a lot because it's my last year playing here and I wanted it to be as memorable as possible," Brudnok said. "Coming in here and getting the win, and also the shutout to put on top of that, it's just amazing."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @craig_a_meyer.