Team Pittsburgh falls in USA Hockey America's Showcase final
The third time was not the charm for Team Pittsburgh.
For the third-straight year, Pittsburgh fell in the championship game at the USA Hockey America's Showcase. This time, Team Illinois held on for the 3-2 triumph Sunday at Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.
Team Pittsburgh, made up of juniors and seniors from local high schools, dominated throughout the tournament. Entering Sunday's game, the team outscored its opponents, 24-4, and won each of its first four games by a five-goal margin.
However, Team Illinois (4-1) was able to limit Pittsburgh's offensive attack.
“These guys gave everything, and they played their absolute hardest. My hat is off to Illinois. They played an absolutely great game,” Pittsburgh coach Lou Biancaniello said. “It was pretty even, back and forth. They had a great second period, and we had what we thought was a great third period, but their goaltender shut us down.”
Pittsburgh (4-1), which lost to Northern New England Gold in 2011's championship and Philadelphia last year, got on the scoreboard 3:02 into the game. Tyler Speis (Serra Catholic) one-timed a pass near the far post into the net for the 1-0 lead.
Team Illinois responded 6:40 later when Kyle Melton redirected a shot through traffic to knot the game at 1-1. Melton led Illinois with eight points in the tournament and finished second overall in scoring.
Trevor Recktenwald (Peters Township) put Pittsburgh up, 2-1, when he wristed in a loose puck for a power-play goal with 5:52 left in the first.
Illinois took charge in the second period. Following a Pittsburgh turnover in its own end, Jake Novack converted the opportunity into a short-handed goal 7:50 into the period.
“That short-handed goal was big for us. They could have got a goal and went up, 2-0. Instead, we got a shorty, and I think that changed the momentum a bit, and it gave us some confidence,” Illinois coach Brian Noonan said. “That was a big play in the game.”
Alex Bock put Illinois up, 3-2, when he swept in a rebound with 1:20 left in the period.
“Anytime you give up a goal in the end of a period it hurts. To get one, it gives you a boost,” Noonan said. “It was a great play off the faceoff by our guys, and it turned out to be the winning goal. It was big.”
Pittsburgh's attack struggled with the Illinois pressure in the second period.
“We had a hard time. Definitely in the second they changed up what they were doing a little bit,” Biancaniello said. “They became extremely aggressive and overloading us and overpowering our guys, not giving us the opportunity to break out of the zone with speed.
“In the third, they kind of got away from that and backed off a little bit and played a little more defensive oriented, and we were able to generate a lot more. We made some adjustments to try and change things up, and we got some things going.
“I don't think we worked as hard as we could have in that second period, either. We got a little complacent and got used to things just working out for us. We had to regroup in the third, and I thought we did that, but their goalie really stood up when he needed to in the third as well.”
Defensive quickness was a key for Illinois, which fell to Team Pittsburgh in last year's semifinals.
“Our defensemen are mobile. We have six defensemen who can move the puck and skate. That makes a big difference. We can get up and down the ice and close the gap,” Noonan said. “We played Pittsburgh last year and lost to them, so I knew what to expect. They are a hard-working team and a good team. We knew we had to play good defense to win.”
Goaltender Zachary Danna and the Illinois defense shut the door in the third to seal the win.
“Our guys played hard. It's hard to put a lot of strangers together; a lot of them haven't played with each other. To only have a few practices, it's hard to get that bond in there quickly,” Noonan said. “They respected each other and played hard for each other, and it showed on the ice.”