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Gators barely miss PIHL Open hockey playoffs

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Gateway varsity ice hockey team kept battling back against Ringgold in its regular-season finale last week, but in the end, the Rams scored a 10-9 victory.

That loss ultimately spelled doom for the Gators in their hopes of grabbing the eighth seed for the Open Class Northeast Conference playoffs.

When it was all said and done, Gateway was left out of the playoffs on one of the more odd tiebreakers.

The Gators completed their 20-game regular-season schedule with a 5-15 record.

They tied Keystone Oaks for eighth in the Northeast Conference standings with 10 points, and the teams split their season series.

The tiebreaker was best win percentage.

Keystone Oaks also finished the regular season with five wins, but because it didn't make up a postponed game against Indiana, who finished the regular season 17-1-1 overall and in second place in the Northeast Conference, its final record was set at 5-14.

The one less loss gave the Eagles the win-percentage tiebreaker and a first-round game against top seed Baldwin on Sunday.

“That didn't sit well with us, but we had a chance to make the playoffs if we got at least a point against Ringgold,” Gateway head coach Gene Perhac said.

“We would've made it tough on Keystone Oaks.

It was tough to come back after spotting Ringgold a five-goal lead, but the guys never gave up.”

Ringgold jumped out 5-0 in the first period and held a 9-5 advantage in the third.

Gateway rallied both times and tied the game with a goal from junior Luke Fossati with less than three minutes left in regulation. The goal was Fossati's third of the game.

However, Ringgold got the game winner less than a minute later.

Gateway was bitten by the curfew bug, as the curfew clock ran out on the Gators with about a minute left.

Gateway had a faceoff in Ringgold's end with four seconds left on the curfew clock.

Senior Zach Dusch got a shot off before the buzzer sounded, but the puck was deflected away by Rams netminder Ben Cafeo.

Ten Gateway players had at least one point in the game, as Fossati also tallied two assists for a five-point game.

Fossati finished the season as the team leader in points with 23 (12 goals, 11 assists).

Sophomores William McAllister and Ryan Taylor each had a goal and two assists, while freshman Tanner Davis scored two goals.

Dusch and senior Brenden Hamilton played their final varsity games in a Gateway uniform.

Perhac said he is encouraged by the experience the younger players gained this season.

“We've really come a long way this year,” he said.

Perhac said a number of coaches and officials within the PIHL are working to find ways to make the classifications more competitive. Because of that, he said, a number of teams could be making moves for the 2014-15 season.

Perhac couldn't say where the Gators would find themselves next season, but wherever they land, he said, they should be pretty competitive.

“Most of our top scorers were underclassmen,” Perhac said.

“The guys can build off this season for the future.”

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825, at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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