Hampton junior Mike Stritzinger sent a text message to Talbots hockey coach Matt Ranallo a few weeks ago saying the team was ready for the playoffs and he would do everything he could to get to the Penguins Cup final.
On Monday, Stritzinger showed he that he meant what he said.
He scored the game-tying goal in the third period and then the game-winner in overtime to lift Hampton (14-8-1) to a 3-2 victory against Plum in the Class AA Penguins Cup quarterfinals.
"For him to say that to me, and then go out and get the game-winner, that was special to see," Ranallo said. "That's why I coach."
Stritzinger was an unlikely hero. A junior forward, he had just three goals in 22 games during the regular season. Aaron Contrafatto, who scored the Talbots' other goal, didn't score any goals for the varsity team this season.
"I'm not usually a goal-scorer," Stritzinger said. "But that game has definitely built my confidence going forward and I think the team's as well. If I can score goals, then it shows that anyone on our team can score, too."
Ranallo said Stritzinger does most of the "dirty work" for the Talbots, and that effort is how he scored both his goals Monday.
The two goals were similar, in that they both involved the puck being dumped into the offensive zone with Stritzinger battling for and eventually winning possession along the boards in the corner and then going around the back of the net and wrapping around a shot on goal. The only difference was that on the first goal, which came 3:28 into the third period, he used his forehand, while the second goal 38 seconds into overtime came on the backhand.
Now the Talbots are just one game away from reaching their goal of playing at Consol Energy Center in the Penguins Cup final. Hampton will play No. 1 Bishop Canevin Tuesday night in the semifinals, where Stritzinger will continue his all-out play.
Hepler signs with NAHL team
Two weeks ago at the North American Prospects Hockey League championships in Detroit, Freeport senior Cole Hepler helped lead his Esmark Stars U18 team to the title game.
The Kenai River (Alaska) Brown Bears were impressed, offering him a tender to join their National American Hockey League team. Hepler signed the tender last weekend.
"My other kids had to fight their way on to junior teams in Canada," said Dave Hepler, Cole's father and his coach on the Freeport High School hockey team. "But they came to Cole. They went to him and asked him to sign. It's a great opportunity for him."
Hepler led Esmark with 90 points (46 goals, 44 assists) in 61 games this season. He also led Freeport with 32 goals and 22 assists in 19 regular-season games, and then scored two goals and two assists to lead the Yellowjackets to a Class A Penguins Cup quarterfinal victory against Westmont Hilltop Monday.
Freeport will play Quaker Valley in the semifinals Monday night.
Dave Hepler said it will be difficult to watch his son move so far away, but the Brown Bears are scheduled to play next season in Minnesota, where Dave Hepler's middle son, Jeremy, is playing hockey in St. Paul at the University of St. Thomas.
"Hopefully I'll get to see them both in the same trip," Hepler said.
PIHL scoring champions
The PIHL regular season concluded last week for the top three classifications (the Open Class finished its regular season earlier) and the league has four new scoring champions.
In Class AAA, Penn-Trafford senior Jake Miller won the scoring title with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists), three more than Canon-McMillan senior J.D. Oddi.
In Class AA, Bishop Canevin senior Randy Unger became only the sixth player in the last decade in the classification to score more than 70 points, and his 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) were the most of any player during that time in Class AA. Chartiers Valley senior Anthony Franks finished behind Unger with 69 points.
In Class A, Quaker Valley senior Jimmy Perkins edged his teammate, Connor Quinn, in the scoring race, 72 to 70. Perkins finished with 43 goals to go along with 29 assists.
In the Open Class, Harbor Creek's Logan Conboy had nine games where he scored four-plus points and took the scoring crown with 67 points.