Armstrong hockey team displays scoring prowess in victory
By Matt Grubba
Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 11:24 p.m.
With a chance to lock up the No. 3 seed in the Class AA playoffs, high-scoring Armstrong showed it can get things done in its own zone.
The Riverhawks took 15 total penalties but finished 12 for 12 on the penalty kill to pick up a 6-3 win over West Allegheny at Airport Ice Arena on Friday night.
Josh Oliver and Christian Miller both had two goals, and Taylor Smouse made 24 saves for Armstrong (14-5-1), which is locked into the third spot behind Bishop Canevin and Erie Cathedral Prep when the Penguins Cup playoffs begin in two weeks.
“It's nice having a home game the first (playoff) game. When you're at home, you have everyone there to cheer you on,” Smouse said. “And with Canevin in first, we don't have to play them until the finals if we get there, so it's nice where we are right now.”
Jess Ligas scored twice for West Allegheny (7-14-0), which was eliminated from the playoff hunt with the loss.
Armstrong pulled away with two late goals. But entering the final period, the Riverhawks had only a 2-0 lead on a breakout goal by Nick Long and a second-chance, short-handed tally by Miller. Penalties were a problem for the Riverhawks throughout the game, but they killed eight West Allegheny power plays, including 2:19 of 5-on-3 time, in the first two periods.
“To take 15 penalties and have two 5-on-3s and kill them off, they played well and fought through it,” Armstrong assistant coach Glen Kilgore said. “They kept skating hard, and the big thing we've been doing is trying to get sticks on pucks defensively. They did that well tonight.”
Jacob Snyder increased the lead to 3-0 with a rebound goal early in the third period. West Allegheny finally broke through in a 4-on-4 situation when Paul Hughes scored on a rebound with 8:51 left in the game.
Prior to that goal, Smouse looked unbeatable in net, and he still finished with a nice bounce-back game after struggling with back issues in a 7-6 win over Chartiers Valley on Thursday.
“Three or four of the goals (against Chartiers Valley), he couldn't really move,” Kilgore said. “He stood on his head tonight. He had a heck of a game, and even though he gave up three, there were a lot more chances he stopped. He got the game puck tonight.”
While Smouse stood tall in net, he also got a team effort in front of him on the penalty kill. Two of three 10-minute misconduct penalties against the Riverhawks were issued to defensemen.
“Our penalty kill is really good, and we're playing well all-around right now,” Smouse said. “I think we're just doing better at getting the puck out. Sometimes we keep it in our zone, and it takes more time away, but that can hurt us. Now we're getting the puck down in their zone more.”
Oliver scored his first goal on an unassisted breakaway after a penalty kill, but Ligas netted back-to-back goals to cut the lead to 4-3 with 4:23 remaining.
Little more than a minute later, Armstrong responded the best way it knows how — with offense.
Oliver scored on a shot from the right boards to increase the lead to 5-3 with 3:19 left, and Miller added an empty-net goal to lock up the game and the No. 3 seed. Miller's empty-netter was his 43rd goal of the season, the highest total in the PIHL in any classification.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.
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