Gateway hockey team clinches playoff spot on senior night
The Gateway varsity ice hockey team was stuck in neutral for the first 19 minutes of Monday's senior-night game against winless Franklin Regional at Center Ice Arena in Delmont.
Then the Gators shifted into high gear and ran over the Panthers.
Gateway fell behind 1-0 early in the second period but scored the final 10 goals in a 10-1 victory.
“It was a great win and a great feeling out there tonight,” senior Cam Cacolice said. “We had a big crowd behind us, and they really supported us all the way.”
Gateway improved to 7-10-0 (14 points) with the victory, and the Gators clinched a spot in the 10-team PIHL Class playoff tournament when West Allegheny lost to Montour, 4-1, on Monday.
The Indians, currently in 11th place in the overall AA standings, fell to 5-12-2 (12 points) with one game left on their schedule.
The Gators can finish no worse than 10th.
If West Allegheny wins its final game, it will finish with 14 points, and Gateway owns the playoff-deciding tiebreaker based on its 7-4 victory over the Indians on the Penguins Pond on Jan. 7.
Gateway also bounced back from an 8-3 loss to Plum on Feb. 4.
“We went back to simplifying our game and tried to do the little things right,” Gateway head coach Gene Perhac said.
“We wanted to be patient. Franklin put up a good fight, especially early, but we wanted to keep the pressure on them. We knew we would eventually be able to break them.”
Perhac said he wanted his team to get back to the kind of play that produced a 3-1 victory over Pine-Richland on Jan. 31.
The Rams were 11-4-1 (23 points) before a game against division-leading Latrobe (14-1) on Wednesday.
Before the game, Cacolice and fellow seniors Jake DeHass, Taylor Siwik, Mark Dandrea, Matt Whelan and Jon Kasper were honored in an on-ice ceremony.
Seniors accounted for 19 of Gateway's 27 points (goals and assists) against the Panthers.
The Gators' special teams were on fire against the Panthers.
Gateway scored three power-play goals and four more shorthanded.
The Gators got two of the shorthanded goals within 18 seconds of each other while Franklin Regional had the man advantage early in the third period.
That made the score, 6-1.
Kasper scored four goals and added three assists for a seven-point night, while Cacolice added two goals and three assists.
Siwik scored a goal and assisted on three others, while DeHass had a goal and two assists.
Junior Zach Dusch got into the scoring act with a goal and two assists.
Freshman Brandon Dusch also scored a goal, and sophomore Alex Brown and freshmen Luke Fossati and Vaso Obrknez provided one assist apiece.
Junior goaltender Tyler Perhac assisted on a goal and stopped 27 of 28 Franklin Regional shots.
Gateway fired 42 shots at Panthers goaltender Nick Paonne.
“Franklin Regional is a gritty team, and once they got that lead, they had nothing to lose,” Gateway senior Jake DeHass said.
“It could be a snowball effect if they get another one, but we settled down and played our game. We got that second goal to take the lead, and we went on and on.”
Gateway returns to action on Feb. 22 against Bishop Canevin at Center Ice Arena in Delmont.
The Gators will take on Franklin Regional in the rematch at Center Ice on Feb. 28.
“Our goal for right now is to work and develop our system better and be ready for the playoffs,” coach Perhac said.
Last year, the Northeast Conference didn't fare well in the PIHL Class AA all-star game.
The Southwest Conference took control early and skated to an 8-2 victory at Rostraver Ice Gardens.
The scene for this year's AA all-star game shifted to the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center, and the balance of power in Sunday's contest shifted to the Northeast.
With help from Perhac, DeHass, Siwik and Cacolice, the Northeast scored a big 7-4 victory.
“Everyone came together well right during warmups,” said coach Perhac, who served as an assistant coach for the Northeast team.
“When you get that caliber of kids together, we just told them to play their game and have fun. They knew what to do and how to play.”
Players from Plum, Gateway, Hampton, Pine-Richland, Latrobe, Kiski Area and Franklin Regional might butt heads during the regular season, but it turned into a smooth mixture on the ice Sunday.
“The boys represented Gateway very well,” coach Perhac said.
“Jake and Cam did very well on defense and held their own. Taylor was on a line with the Latrobe boys, and he fit right in with them. Tyler gave up a couple of goals, but one was on a screen and the other was on a really nice play, and you expect to see that in all-star games.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.