South Xtra: Peters' quest for Penguins Cup falls short again

HIGH SCHOOL HOCKEY

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For the third consecutive season, the Peters Township High School hockey team left Consol Energy Center without a Cup.

But considering the expectations entering the season for the Indians (19-5), the fact that they were even playing on the NHL Penguins' home ice was quite an accomplishment.

"Not only at the end of the last season or the beginning of this season did we not have high expectations, but even in mid-February, or maybe earlier than that, we were just hoping to get a playoff spot," Peters Township coach Rick Tingle said.

"So to go on the streak we did, to end up in first place, regardless of the outcome [of the Penguins Cup tournament], it was a great season."

After starting the season 4-4, Peters Township won 15 games in a row to reach the Penguins Cup final before losing to North Allegheny, 2-0, last week.

The biggest improvement for Peters down the stretch was defensively. The Indians gave up 11 goals in their first two games of the season, but allowed just 25 in its final 14 games.

"Early in the year, we had a lot of trouble getting the puck out of our zone," Tingle said. "We really worked on that."

The Indians already had one of the best goaltenders in the league in Brian Baker, who finished second in Class AAA in goals-against average and first in save percentage.

Offensively, Peters Township had the most productive line in the classification with Trevor Recktenwald, Adam Alavi and Alex DeBolt each finishing in the top five in scoring.

So when the defense was improved, that's when the Indians started to go on their run.

Unfortunately for the Indians, the problem of getting the puck out of zone cost the team at the most crucial time.

With the score tied, 0-0, midway through the third period of the PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup final on March 20, Peters Township defenseman Carter Ekberg gathered the puck near the side of his net. But North Allegheny's Joe Griffin pressured him and may have hit Ekberg's stick or the puck as Ekberg tried to clear it out of the zone.

So instead of moving up the ice, it went sideways toward the Indians' net and hit off the skate of Baker and into the goal.

North Allegheny went on to score another goal to win, 2-0.

"They're all disappointed and we all wish it could have been best two of three," Tingle said. "But it's not something that anyone should hang their heads about."

It was the third year in a row that Peters fell in the championship game, after losing to Bishop Canevin, 5-2, in the Class AA final in 2011 and 2-1 on a late power-play goal by Bethel Park last season, the Indians first in AAA.

"We're not going to change anything just for that reason," Tingle said. "Each year we've scratched and clawed our way to the final and that's quite an accomplishment."

The Indians must replace Recktenwald, DeBolt, Brad Tylenda and Matthew Kmonk, all of whom graduate. Tingle said the quartet was not only instrumental because of its play on the ice, but also the leadership it provided after the so-so start to the season.

But, led by Alavi and Baker, the Indians should be very talented next year should everyone who is expected back returns.

Tingle isn't concerned about somebody stepping up to fill the leadership void.

"Leadership is something that always turns over every year," Tingle said. "I expect somebody to step up.

"No one knew who Alex DeBolt was outside of Peters hockey, but he went on to be a leader and finish in the top five in scoring."

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