Pine-Richland advances to Penguins Cup Finals
If there is a downside to success, it is the tremendous expectation to keep it up.
From 2006-2008, the Pine-Richland hockey team captured two Class AA and one Class AAA Penguins Cup Championships. The team also grabbed two state titles and was a state runner-up during that span. The Rams also were the Penguins Cup runners-up the year before the three-peat.
The team then hit a lull in success. A couple of early exits from the playoffs had the program out of the spotlight for a few seasons until the arrival of coach Mike Bagnato. Bagnato had son on some of the championship teams, and the starting goalie during the past two seasons also has been a son of the coach.
The Rams were one game away from the Penguins Cup finals last season. When they returned to the semifinals this time, a lot of hustle, a great deal of heart and a little luck helped the Rams upset No. 1-seeded Bishop Canevin, 3-2, in overtime.
The Rams controlled the tempo early, but the Crusaders cashed in on the first power-play opportunity of the game and took a 1-0 lead thanks to Brennan Adams' goal.
The Rams went on the power play shortly after, and junior forward Ryan Cole took a feed from Tyler Mikita and Dillon Kessy to knot the score at 1.
The Rams took another penalty, and the result was the same for Bishop Canevin. Garrett Godlewski gave the lead back to the crusaders in the second period.
The Rams controlled the tempo, but with 17 minutes left, the Crusaders controlled the scoreboard.
“If you look at our games all year, teams would get up even though we were in control of the game,” Bagnato said. “They stayed focused. They are veterans and didn't worry, because they knew they would come back.”
Pine-Richland may have a veteran squad, but it was one of the greener Rams who stepped up next. At the 7:34 mark of the third period, freshman Matt Cole stunned the Robert Morris University island sports center crowd with an unassisted goal that tied the score, 2-2.
“The team needed a boost, and typically it is one of the older guys,” Matt Cole said. “I don't have the most points, but I can step up once in awhile.”
Matt Cole's goal energized the Rams and gave Pine-Richland keeper Brendan Bagnato an even slate to work with.
Brendan Bagnato locked down for the remaining 20 minutes — just long enough for Kessy to send the Rams to the finals with his unassisted overtime goal.
“It was really all about my defense,” Brendan Bagnato said. “They cleared it out, worked hard and won every battle.”
Kessy crashed the net, and although the net came loose in the process, his goal counted, and the Rams went back to the finals.
“I got a pass from Ryan Cole, and I took a shot at the five hole and it went in,” Kessy said. “This is huge. We have been trying to get to Consol (Energy Center) for three years.”
The Rams met No. 2-seeded Latrobe in the finals. Results of that game were unavailable as of press time.
“I am so proud of this group,” Mike Bagnato said. “They played their hearts out and found a way to win.
“The goalie made some huge saves, a freshman came from out of nowhere … this is just a huge, huge unbelievable thing. It is my job now to make sure we win.”
Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.