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Knights fall vs. USC hockey

Aaron Loughner | For The Norwin Star
Norwin forward Marc Swankler, left, and the Norwin hockey team are headed into the PIHL's holiday break with a 6-4-0 record.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 8:50 p.m.
 

Goals were plentiful for both teams on Thursday, but Norwin ended up being the team with too few.

The Knights jumped out to an early two-goal lead before Upper St. Clair stormed back with four goals in six minutes of the first-period on the way to an 8-5 win over Norwin at the Ice Castle in Castle Shannon.

Upper St. Clair's Jacob Puccetti finished the game with five goals and an assist, while Dan Merz finished with two goals and three assists for the Knights, which carried his league-best point total to 33.

The Knights took an early edge with some good puck movement. Merz scored on a rebound after Dante Youhon found Alex Moxie in front of the net for the intial shot, which gave Norwin a 1-0 lead. Merz did good work behind the net to set up Marc Swankler for the Knights' second goal, as Norwin had a 2-0 lead in less than nine minutes.

USC came back by scoring on a delayed penalty call and then on a power play to tie the game, and when Puccetti pounced on a rebound with 5:06 left in the first period, the Panthers had their first lead of the game.

“This one got away from us,” Norwin coach James Reith said. “We've had some games where we've played really well within our system, but we were our own worst enemy tonight. You can't play shorthanded, and when we took penalties, they made us pay.”

Norwin twice tied the game again on goals by Tim Palmer and Eli Reith, but USC took the lead for good with 15:07 left in the second period when Dan Crockett redirected a shot by Matt Koch behind Norwin goalie Chad Albert.

Puccetti added the Panthers' sixth goal in the second period and extended the lead to 7-4 in the third, as the USC offense continued to churn forward while Norwin's attack stalled.

“I'd say our intensity just dropped a little,” Merz said. “We really came out flying, and we got the lead. But then we tried to sit back on the lead, and it didn't work. We started taking penalties, too, and that really took the wind out of our sails.”

Merz cut the lead with an exceptional 1-on-2 move to split the USC defense and score by moving the puck from backhand to forehand, but that tally with 4:46 remaining would be Norwin's last.

The Knights' chance to rally was killed by penalties, as roughing calls against Palmer and Merz deprived the team of two of its biggest offensive weapons, and further calls against Youhon and Swankler put four Knights in the box against only one USC player in the final minute. For the game, Norwin had 34 minutes of penalties, including a pair of 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

“We needed to play three periods of hockey and stay out of the box,” Merz said. “Some of the calls we don't agree with, but we have to keep trying to do our best.”

The loss dropped the Knights to 6-4-0 after 10 games of the season, but they still hold on to the top spot in Section 3-AAA entering the final week before the PIHL's holiday break.

“We're pleased to have a winning record, and we've had some really nice wins,” Reith said. “That said, there have been games like (against Upper St. Clair) where we've left points on the table. We'll be in situations like this again, and that's what we have to correct.”

Norwin's first game back after the break is an outdoor contest against Hempfield at the Penguins Pond, which this year is located in newly-opened Highmark Stadium at Station Square in Pittsburgh's South Side. Norwin faces the Spartans on Jan. 2 at 9 p.m.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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