Plum wins third in row with a victory over Gateway
Something had to give when the Plum and Gateway varsity ice hockey teams met Monday night at the Pittsburgh Ice Arena in New Kensington.
Both the Mustangs and Gators came in on two-game winning streaks.
Plum had taken care of business against Franklin Regional, 7-0, on Friday, and it toppled Erie Cathedral Prep, 6-1, on Jan. 28,
Gateway upended Pine-Richland, 3-1, last Thursday, and it got by winless Montour, 3-1, on Jan. 28.
When the dust settled after three periods between the teams close to each other in the race for the PIHL Class AA playoffs, Plum stood tall with an 8-3 victory.
“This was one of the biggest games of the year for us,” Mustangs senior Andrew Walters said.
“It had huge playoff implications, and we're now three points ahead of (Gateway) instead of one. It was a big game going forward. It means the world to every senior in that (locker) room right now.”
Plum improved to 7-8-1 with the victory, and with its 15 points, it climbing up the standings.
The Mustangs currently are in seventh place in the AA standings, and they jumped past North Hills and Moon, who have 14 points apiece.
However, Moon has three games in hand, while North Hills has two.
Gateway fell to 6-10-0 and remained at 12 points.
Plum avenged a 4-2 November loss to the Gators.
Before the game, the Mustangs celebrated senior night, and seniors James D'Andrea, Todd Ruggiero, Zach Crawford, Dylan Metala, Derek Zgibor, Taylor Cestra, Andrew Pagano, Andrew Walters, Dom Macioce and Jordan Gable were honored.
“This was a night for them,” Plum head coach Dave Stonebraker said.
“The message that we preached to them was that we didn't want any of them to walk away from this game with any regrets. Whether we won or lost — that was secondary — we wanted to come out and play our game. Those guys went out and played with their heart and their soul. I couldn't be more proud of them.”
Plum set the tone early as Ruggiero scored 1:56 into the game on an assist from Zgibor. Three of the Mustangs first four goals were off of scrums right in front of the Gateway net.
Walters finished with a six point night. He tallied four goals and added two assists, and it was his third game of the season with at least six points.
He has a team-best 45 points (24 goals, 21 assists).
Plum led 3-1 after one period and 5-2 after two.
The Mustangs added three goals in the third period, including a final goal by Gable with only 22 seconds left.
Seniors accounted for 11 of the 17 Plum points (goals and assists) in Monday's game.
“Yes, we had scoring from other areas, but this was a game dominated by the play of our seniors,” coach Stonebraker said,
“They were leaders and examples for the younger kids.”
Sophomore David Stonebraker added two goals, and Stonebraker, Pagano, Ruggiero, Zgibor, junior Zach Kuhn and sophomore Thomas Kelsesky each provided assists.
The teams combined for 86 shots, and Plum had 46 of them.
Cestra was in net for the Mustangs, and she stopped 37 of Gateway's 40 shots.
Plum played without junior Joe Randazzo, who missed the game after receiving a game misconduct penalty in Friday's win over Franklin Regional.
Randazzo has 35 points — 25 goals and 10 assists — this season.
“This win was a total team effort, from the forwards to the defensemen to Taylor,” coach Stonebraker said.
Plum has three games left, and it will try to keep things going Monday against Latrobe at 8:20 p.m. at Pittsburgh Ice Arena. The Wildcats will take a 13-1 record into the matchup.
The Mustangs close the regular season with Kiski Area on Feb. 21 and Chartiers Valley on Feb. 25.
“There is confidence that is increasing in that locker room,” coach Stonebraker said.
Walters, Randazzo and Gable will represent Plum on the Northeast team at Sunday's PIHL AA All-Star Game at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center. The Northeast has players from Plum, Gateway, Pine-Richland, Hampton, Latrobe, Franklin Regional and Kiski Area.
The AA game is the third of four all-star contests and will be at 3 p.m.
The open-class game is at 11 a.m., followed by the A game at 1 p.m.
The AAA contest caps the day at 5.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.