On the ride from Bethel Park to Omaha, Neb., for the USA Hockey High School Hockey National Championships last week, one of the movies Bethel Park watched was "Miracle."
The movie is based on the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team's improbable run to a gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics, where the Americans stunned the powerful Soviet Union team in the semifinals before taking down Finland in the final.
At nationals, the Black Hawks pulled their own stunner in the semifinal on their way to the championship.
Bethel Park defeated powerhouse Des Moines (Iowa) Oak Leafs, 3-1, in the semifinals and beat Providence Catholic (Ill.), 2-1, in the title game to become the first Pennsylvania team to win the event.
"We watched 'Miracle' on the way up, and not to compare that game to ours, because I think that's the best, but I felt our odds of winning were slim," Bethel Park coach Jim McVay said. "Des Moines has a great team, but it's not a best-of-three, a best-of-five or a best-of seven series. You just play one game, and if you play your best game, that's all it takes."
Bethel Park didn't even win its league championship, falling to Peters Township in the PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup final. But the PIHL had decided it was going to send two teams from the league to the national championship tournament prior to the final, and Bethel Park and Peters Township were the two best teams that applied.
In preparation for the event, the Black Hawks raised $16,000 for the trip, according to McVay.
"Our guys worked hard on the ice and off the ice, and it paid off," McVay said.
The 32 teams competing at nationals were broken into eight four-team pools, with the winner from each pool qualifying for the knockout phase. The Black Hawks went 2-0-1 in Group A, beating Cherry Creek (Colo.), 9-2, and Medina (Ohio), 4-1, while tying Junipero Serra Catholic (Calif.), 4-4.
Peters Township, meanwhile, didn't get out of Group B, winning a game in a shootout and losing its other two games. One of the losses was a 3-1 defeat against runner-up Providence Catholic.
The quarterfinals for the eight pool champions was scheduled for Saturday morning, with games at 9, 9:30, 11 and 11:30. The way it should have worked was the 9 and 9:30 winners play each other in the semifinals, while the 11 and 11:30 match up in the second semifinals.
A scheduling mistake was made, however, and the 9 a.m. champion was scheduled to play the champion of the 11 a.m. game, which pitted Bethel Park and Sioux Falls (S.D.). This would allow the teams to scout each other.
McVay said he noticed the mistake and told one of the tournament officials, who then discussed it with USA Hockey. At this point, Des Moines had already won the 9 a.m. game and the Black Hawks were winning, 2-0. McVay said USA Hockey wanted to correct its mistake, but Des Moines protested because it thought Bethel Park was easier. The bracket was kept intact, however, and Des Moines got its wish to play the Black Hawks, who ended up beating Sioux Falls, 3-0.
"[The Des Moines coach] was screaming, saying Waterloo shouldn't get to play these bunch of cupcakes," McVay said. "I think we were more motivated for that game than any all year."
Des Moines had outscored its first four opponents by a score of 21-5, but it had trouble finding the back of the net against the Black Hawks.
The teams were tied at 1 after the first period, but the Black Hawks scored twice in the second period and shut out Des Moines over the final two periods to win, 3-1.
Chris Siak had a goal and two assists in the semifinals, while William Lowe stopped 31 shots.
Siak and Lowe stepped up again in the final, with Siak scoring a goal and an assist and Lowe stopping 23 shots. Siak finished as the tournament's leading scorer with 14 points (six goals, eight assists), while Lowe was 4-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage.
"We couldn't even win states but we won nationals," McVay said.
"... As I always say, it's all about defense. The three medal round games, we won 3-0, 3-1, and 2-1. The margin between the top teams was pretty tight. It came down to defense."