Ford City takes down Wheeling Park for Open Class title
At the bottom of Ford City's post-buzzer dogpile lay the player whose performance in the cage early in Monday night's PIHL Open Class championship gave the Sabers so much of their confidence.
Four minutes into the Sabers' 9-4 win over Wheeling Park at Robert Morris University's Island Sports Center, senior goaltender Adam Cogley stared down a clean, close-range shot from Wheeling Park's Nicco Catalano and snagged it out of the air with his glove hand.
Two minutes later, he fired his leg out to deny Ian McArdle's backhand attempt during an uncontested breakaway.
And less than four minutes into the second period, another golden scoring chance for Catalano ended with a save by Cogley.
“I knew I didn't want to get nervous coming into this game,” Cogley said. “Obviously they're going to get chances, and when my nerves get worked up, I don't do too good. … I really didn't care whether I made one save or 20 saves, as long as I made that one when it counted.”
With the victory, Ford City (21-2-1), the Chiefs division champion, secured its second Open Class title in five seasons.
“From July until now, they've given me everything I've asked from them,” Ford City coach Glen Kilgore said.
“Adam has been unbelievable all playoffs long. Hollidaysburg (in the Open Class quarterfinals), he stood on his head. Indiana (in the semifinals), what can I say about that game, it was probably one of the most exciting games I've ever seen.”
Wheeling Park, the Nailers division winner, finished the year 19-5.
“It was tough to get such good opportunities and not be able to capitalize on them,” Wheeling Park coach Brian Syrylo said. “If definitely changed the momentum by not capitalizing in those instances.
“I think if a few of those go in, then we're able to bounce back. But they did a good job at burying the puck when they had to.”
As Cogley built up confidence at one end of the rink early in Monday's contest, the Sabers' shooters grew assured at the other.
Josh Oliver and Jesse Valasek each scored less than eight minutes into the first period.
“We had a lot of butterflies coming into this game,” Valasek said. “We were confident, but we also weren't going to take them lightly. … Those two goals were huge and took away the butterflies.”
An awkward shot by Michael Grove, who sent the puck toward the net as he spun around to face his target, beat Cogley and cut Wheeling Park's deficit to one.
Eric Lindey extended Ford City's lead back to two less than two minutes into the second period.
Grove slipped another shot by Cogley while both teams had four skaters on the ice with 4:02 left in the second.
Any hopes of a Wheeling Park comeback faded during a four-minute stretch that spanned the end of the second period and the start of the third. Valasek, Oliver and Lindey each scored to give Ford City a four-goal lead, and Luke Gross made it 7-2 with 7:15 left in the game.
The scoring spree brought Ford City's sizeable student section to life, and the fans kept the energy in favor of their team as Wheeling Park and the Sabers traded late-game goals.
“Since day one, we've had good fan support in the playoffs,” said assistant Doug Anthony, the team's coach during the championship run in 2009. “They follow us well. This group here might have the (2008-09) group (beat). But the two years we won, the support was just amazing.”
Ford City might merge its program with Kittanning next season. The Sabers came back into existence for the 2007-08 season and joined the Open Class, which was created to help burgeoning programs develop depth. Relying on players from districts northeast of Pittsburgh, Ford City has not accumulated enough players from its own school to field a group that could compete as a “pure” PIHL team.
“If this is the last year for Ford City hockey, what better way than to go out by hanging at banner at the Belmont,” Kilgore said. “Like I told the kids in the locker room, it doesn't matter what school you're from. These kids here, they bleed purple and gold.”