Tough third period dooms Thomas Jefferson hockey
Thomas Jefferson hockey coach Bill Crousey isn't a big fan of the PIHL's decision to change period lengths from 15 to 17 minutes, especially on nights when his team is shorthanded.
Crousey's pregame concern that his undermanned team would struggle in the third period came to fruition as Westmont Hilltop exploded for five goals in the final period to earn an 8-4 victory at the Bethel Park BladeRunners in the PIHL opener for each squad.
TJ led, 4-3, through two periods.
“We just came out flat in the third period and just weren't good enough,” Crousey said.
“We were shorthanded, but, you know, they didn't have more players than we did. Fatigue was a problem, but we just didn't play well in the third.”
Although Westmont Hilltop always fields a solid team, the loss will feel like one that got away for numerous reasons. TJ blew three leads in the contest, which hurt.
Making matters worse is the reality that Westmont Hilltop was playing without both of its starting goaltenders.
Both Sebastian Ragno and James Miller, the team's regular goaltenders, were unavailable.
Coach Art McQuillan's son, Cullen McQuillan, told his dad on the bus ride from Johnstown that he would play between the pipes.
“He said, ‘I'll take this,' ” McQuillan said. “He's a Triple-A defenseman. It's tough to put your best skater in the net, but we had to do something. They say you have to be a good skater to be a goaltender. He was definitely up to the challenge tonight.”
TJ took advantage of McQuillan's presence between the pipes early in the contest.
Matt Bowers and Zach Uhlyar easily beat McQuillan on breakaways to put the Jaguars up, 2-1, after the first period. Brian Zovko gave the Jaguars a 3-1 lead.
Even though Westmont Hilltop roared back to even the score, Kevin Ringling's blistering slap shot gave TJ the lead and seemingly the momentum late in the second period.
“We did some good things early in the game, and you know going in it won't be easy because Westmont Hilltop is always a quality hockey team,” Crousey said.
The third period, however, quickly slipped away from the Jaguars.
McQuillan looked surprisingly comfortable for someone who was playing out of position and silenced the TJ attack during the final 17 minutes.
It didn't take long for his teammates to cut into the lead.
In a span of 48 seconds early in the third period, Austin Crespo, Zac Nedwresici and T.J. Smith scored against Thomas Jefferson to give Westmont Hilltop a 6-4 advantage.
Two more goals followed against a suddenly vulnerable TJ squad.
“We said after the second period that our goal was to out-shoot them in the third,” McQuillan said. “We thought if we did that, just kept firing shots at them, that we'd have a good chance to win. And that's exactly what happened. We really played well down the stretch.”
TJ hopes to regroup before its next game, a trip to Kittanning next week.
Crousey contends that he sees good things in this Jaguars squad.
“It's only the first game, and we didn't have everyone,” Crousey said. “I like a lot of things about this team. We'll be fine.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.