Knights win outdoor game vs. Hempfield
Norwin's outdoor adventure last year ended with an unlikely hockey rainout, but this year, the Knights' open-air contest stuck to a much more traditional script.
The Knights recorded the game's last three goals over the final 20 minutes to pull away for a section win over Hempfield, 6-3, on the Penguins Pond at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh on Jan. 2.
Temperatures around 15 degrees and a choppy ice surface weren't enough to slow Class AAA's leading scorer, Dan Merz, who had another hat trick for the Knights (7-5-0). Marc Swankler scored twice for Norwin, and Alex Moxie delivered the game-winning goal in the waning moments of the second period.
For Hempfield (1-8-1), Justin Bartus, Channing Gorscak and Jacob Bartus all scored in the second period.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Norwin, which remains atop the Section 3-AAA standings entering this week.
“It was a lot better than last year, when there was six inches of water on the ice,” Swankler said. “The ice was choppy, but what can you do?
“Our past couple of games were real bad. We had a couple of breakdowns, so we had to come back and keep the intensity up against Hempfield. It felt really good to get a big win.”
Swankler opened the scoring on the first of three assists in the game for Jonathan Shirley, and his goal was the only one of the opening period.
“Personally, the last two games were really bad for me. I wasn't scoring, and I was taking a lot of penalties,” Swankler said. “It was good to get back to scoring some goals.”
Hempfield tied the game after only 2:04 of the second period, but each time the Spartans evened the score, Norwin came back with a goal of its own. Merz scored on assists from Dante Youhon and Tim Palmer to make the score 2-1, and the Knights' leading scorer added an unassisted goal to make the count 3-2.
After Hempfield tied the game, 3-3, it appeared the teams would be deadlocked heading to the tents that served as locker rooms, but a late 3-on-1 rush changed all that.
Shirley won the puck in the neutral zone and moved it forward to Swankler on the right side. Swankler then connected with a pass to Moxie, who came down the middle of the ice and pulled the puck to the left to flip a forehand shot past Hempfield goalie Alex Androkites.
“I've got to give credit to Marc on the 3-on-1 because he flipped it right over to me,” Moxie said.
“I was kind of nervous about the puck being weird on that outdoor ice, but I was fortunate enough to be able to make a move, get the goalie to move and put it in the back of the net.”
Going into the break before the third period with a lead was a big boost for the Knights, who were able to gather themselves and recommit to sound defensive play going into the final 17 minutes.
“We knew Hempfield was going to come out hungry and not give up, so we had to keep our momentum,” Moxie said. “We did that, and fortunately, we won the game.”
Norwin padded its lead on Merz' third goal, also assisted by Palmer and Youhon, and the scoring ended the same way it started, with Swankler cashing in an assist from Shirley.
“Once we got those last two goals, we switched to a 1-2-2 (alignment) and had our defense clogging the middle because (Hempfield) was trying for back-door passes,” Swankler said. “That seemed to work pretty good.”
The Knights' defensive shift helped them limit Hempfield to just five shots in the final period, and all five were turned away by winning goalie Chad Albert, who finished with 19 saves in the game. Androkites finished with 27 saves for Hempfield.
The game also kept players on the ice, with just five minor penalties — three against Norwin and two against Hempfield — and a late misconduct call against the Spartans throughout the entire game.
While the section win was the most important thing to come from the matchup, Norwin's players also got the enjoyment of a full outdoor game after last year's contest with Shaler was halted in the second period due to safety concerns.
This year's location of the Penguins Pond inside Highmark Stadium, the new home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team, gave the game more of a professional feel, with stadium seating on multiple sides for fans. With the downtown skyline as the backdrop on one end of the ice, Norwin's outdoor experience this season far surpassed last year's.
“It was a bit cold, but it was nice to play out here,” Moxie said. “After our last game, we really wanted to come out hard, make things happen and play well here.”
The Knights were scheduled to host Shaler (5-4-2) this week, after this edition's deadline, and will next be on the ice against North Allegheny (9-2-0) at BladeRunners Warrendale at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.