Warriors hockey starts the year outdoors
To kick off the new year, Penn-Trafford hockey went for a skate in the open air.
The Warriors were beaten, 4-1, by Mt. Lebanon at the Penguins Pond outdoor rink, this year located in Highmark Stadium on Pittsburgh's South Side, as part of the PIHL's annual series of outdoor games on Thursday.
Jordan Eisenstat had the lone goal for Penn-Trafford (0-10-0) in the second period, which cut the lead for the Blue Devils (3-7-0) to 2-1. A goal late in the period by Ronald Litman — his second of the game — put P-T behind again by two goals, and the Warriors were unable to find the net in the third period.
While the Warriors are still seeking their first win of the season, the chance to play an outdoor game for the second year in a row was a welcome treat for a group that has worked hard to improve from the start of the season.
“Obviously, the result wasn't what we wanted to get, but it was a great experience being out here,” Eisenstat said. “The atmosphere out here was great, and it will be pretty memorable. It just would have been nice to get a win, too.”
“Playing outside is a real cool experience,” said Warriors junior captain Jake Miller. He also said he preferred the new Highmark Stadium location for the rink to last year's spot at the SouthSide Works.
“It feels real cool to skate out here. I love it, but it would've been really nice to win a game.”
The Warriors, most of whom never had played a varsity game outdoors, were hoping to pick up their first points in the standings with downtown Pittsburgh serving as the scenic backdrop, but P-T fell behind late in the first period.
Griffin Nelson's goal, assisted by Litman and Vincent Conti, put Mt. Lebanon in the lead, and it would be the only goal of the first period.
Litman doubled the lead in the first minute of the second period, but Eisenstat was able to force a Blue Devils turnover and capitalize with an unassisted goal to make the score 2-1 with 9:40 to play.
Shortly after that goal, Penn-Trafford switched goalies, as head coach Brian Lehneke wanted to make sure all his players got a chance to experience outdoor play. Jacob Proskin got the start in net for P-T and turned away 20 of 22 shots on goal, and Eric Phelps stopped 28 of 29 shots, as both goalies officially recorded 25 minutes in net.
A cross-checking call against Nelson gave Penn-Trafford the game's first power play and a chance to even the score in the closing minutes of the second period. Mt. Lebanon, however, would be the team to take advantage.
Litman took a pass from Stephen Sramac and got behind the P-T defense by himself to score on a shorthanded breakaway with only 22 seconds left before the intermission. The goal put momentum firmly with the Blue Devils, who needed the win to keep pace in the Class AAA playoff hunt.
“After I scored to make it 2-1, I really felt we were going to come back and make it 2-2,” Eisenstat said. “But when they scored shorthanded, that was a killer.”
“I feel like we were in the game, right up to the end, but a goal like that, right before the ice cut, always kills you,” Miller said.
“It takes the momentum away from you going to the locker room. It's a horrible time to give up a goal.”
Despite the setback, Penn-Trafford continued to battle through the third period and killed two penalties to keep the margin at two.
In the final minute, Lehneke pulled Phelps from the net for an extra skater, but Sramac scored into the empty net for Mt. Lebanon after one final flurry by the Warriors in front of Blue Devils goalie Clay Wyda, who finished with 20 saves.
Penn-Trafford still has more than half of its schedule in front of it, and the players hope to continue improving steadily with the goal of notching their first win of the season.
Their next opportunity might be one of the best remaining on the schedule, as P-T goes on the road for the first of two meetings this season with Section 3-AAA opponent Hempfield (1-8-1) at the Kirk S. Nevin Arena in Greensburg on Thursday at 9:15 p.m.
Hempfield got its chance to play on the Penguins Pond the night before Penn-Trafford's outdoor game, and the Spartans lost, 6-3, to Norwin.
“The last couple of games, we started to do some things a lot better,” Miller said. “We just need to put it all together and play a full game.
“I feel like (the first-year varsity players) are doing a lot better moving the puck up the boards, taking hits and just making plays. They were a little iffy at some things in the beginning of the season, but you can see the way they're starting to improve. We don't even think about winning that first game; we're thinking about winning every shift and then putting a whole game together.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.