Ford City hockey advances to Chiefs Cup final
An uncertain future looms for Ford City's hockey team. But the possible final chapter for the Sabers is building toward quite a flourish.
With a 4-3 home win over Hollidaysburg (15-6-1) at the Belmont Complex, No. 1 seed Ford City (19-2-1) advanced to the championship game of the PIHL Open Class Chiefs Division. It'll play No. 2 Indiana (19-2-1) at 8 p.m. Thursday at Robert Morris University's Island Sports Center for the Chiefs Cup as well as for a spot in the Open Class finals, where the Nailers Division champion awaits.
After almost two full periods Tuesday night, Ford City found itself in jeopardy of enduring a semifinal-round upset for the second straight season. A No. 1 seed last winter, it was stunned by Greensburg Salem.
"The second period we came out sloppy," Ford City coach Glen Kilgore said. "They were on the bench (complaining) about things not going their way, and they srtated talking about last year and things that happened late in that game."
Eric Lindey eased the Sabers' anxiety when he tied the score at 2-2 with a power-play goal with 1:18 left in the second period.
Another power-play goal put Ford City ahead, 3-2, one minute into the third period. Just 15 seconds into the penalty, Eli Thompson poked in a loose puck as he waited on the backside of a scramble in the crease.
"I knew getting at their goalie, they wouldn't like it, and they'd retaliate and take a stupid penalty," Thompson said. "Then we took advantage."
Jesse Valasek added what proved to be a pivotal insurance goal with 4:58 left in the game. His tally became the game-winner after Brandon Ritchey scored a power-play goal with 1:04 remaining to get a hat trick and cut Hollidaysburg's deficit to one.
Valasek, Lindey, Joe Cippel, Cody Atherton and goaltender Adam Cogley make up the team's senior class. Kilgore reminded them that they might represent the program's final group of seniors. In advance of the Armstrong School District's plan, the Sabers will merge with Kittanning's hockey team, though no date has been finalized.
"The change could be coming," Kilgore said. "What better way to go out."
Cogley finished with 21 saves. Hollidaysburg's home-run pass approach to offense created several breakaway opportunities for the Tigers, who scored their first and second goals on rushes.
While his coach and teammates praised his performance, Cogley critiqued himself somewhat harshly.
"I hope I got the best of (Hollidaysburg) late," he said, "because they certainly made me look stupid in the first two periods."
Hollidaysburg goalie Matt Gregory, in just his second game back after missing two-plus months with concussion symptoms, made 25 saves, including 10 in the first period.
"He's played us tough every time we've played him in the last two or three years," Kilgore said.
Luke Gross finally broke through for Ford City and tied the score at 1-1 with a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle early in the second period.
Ritchey answered a minute later with a goal that put Hollidaysburg back ahead.
"They brought their game tonight," Kilgore said. "They wanted it as much as we did. We just took advantage of a couple opportunities they gave us."
Hollidaysburg coach Brad Blair said the Tigers' strong start boosted his confidence, and it stood in contrast to their poor performance early in a 6-5 double-overtime victory against Keystone Oaks in the quarterfinals. But the Belmont Complex remained a house of horror for Blair, a third-year coach whose involvement with Hollidaysburg stretches back six seasons.
"We've never won in this building," Blair said. "So we knew what we were getting into here."