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Lineup changes help Serra advance in PIHL Penguins Cup playoffs

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
Serra Catholic's Thomas Werner (center) receives accolades from his teammates after scoring a first-period goal against South Park in the first round of the the PIHL playoffs Monday, March 4, 2013, at the Rostraver Ice Garden. (Ronald Vezzani Jr. | Daily News)

Brian Boehm has been coaching hockey long enough to know that something was just not right.

So, just like hockey coaches do, Boehm made changes … actually, a lot of changes.

Boehm moved his leading scorer (Tyler Speis), to defense, pushed his best defenseman (Jonathan Henschel) up to center and inserted a freshman goalie (Chen Pesecreta) who had one career start under his belt into the starting lineup along with “about 10 other changes” two weeks before the start of the PIHL Penguins Cup playoffs.

The result? Three straight losses.

“We knew it was going to take time,” Boehm said.

That time finally arrived.

Serra broke open a 3-2 second-period game with three goals in a span of 4:43 and went on to cruise to a 9-2 first-round playoff win over South Park at Rostraver Ice Garden for the program's first postseason win in two years.

“When you make the switches that we made, it takes time for them to grasp their role and feel confident,” Boehm said. “After watching this, I think we finally found a mix that is going to work for this team.”

Serra (12-11) advanced to the quarterfinals and will take on No. 2 Mars (17-3-1) on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at Warrendale BladeRunners.

Those most directly involved with the wholesale changes — Henschel, Speis, Pesecreta — played a big role in Serra's win.

Speis had a goal and four assists; Henschel had two goals and an assist; and Pesecreta turned away 22 of 24 shots for his second career win.

Pesecreta never got rattled despite playing in his first playoff game.

“He's played in big games before,” Speis said. “He kept us in the game against Quaker Valley. We weren't worried because we know he can play against anybody.”

But it wasn't only those three who helped the Eagles on this night.

Roman Kraemer scored three goals, Thomas Werner added a pair and Nicholas Vacsulka had four points.

South Park got goals from Cam Sabatini and Chris Eisengart a minute apart in the second period to make the game 3-2, but Serra reeled off six straight goals.

“We were able to get the lead back real quick and that helped us a lot,” Speis said. “We weren't worried. We knew we were going to be OK.”

Boehm agreed.

“We are capable of scoring like that,” Boehm said. “It is just the young guys needing to feel confident and that's what they did.”

Nobody was more confident than Pesecreta even after he allowed two goals in the second.

“I thought: ‘Man, I shouldn't have let those in,' ” Pesecreta said. “After that, I just focused on how I usually play and wasn't worried about that it was the playoffs. The defense played really well.”

With the game 3-2, Speis showed why Boehm moved him to defense. He took a pass from Pesecreta and went coast-to-coast, sliding the puck past South Park goalie Shane Walker to make it 4-2.

Werner scored three minutes later and Henschel set up Kraemer for a power play goal a minute after that.

“I knew Henschel had potential to be a star,” Boehm said. “He is really coming into his game right now. It is really neat to see. He dominated that team. They never stopped him and were never able to beat him.”

The game remained 6-2 before Serra reeled off another quick three goals late in the third period.

Kraemer tapped one past Walker to make it 7-2; Gian Oliver snapped one over the glove of Walker to make it 8-2 and Henschel banged one home 16 seconds later to make it 9-2 and set up a rematch with Mars.

Mars beat Serra 2-1 and 6-2 in a span of two weeks in November.

“They don't want us, but we want them,” Henschel said.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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