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TJ goalie's strong play keys playoff win over Deer Lakes

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 12:18 a.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | for the Tribune Review
Thomas Jefferson's Jason Ceccarelli and Deer Lakes' Justin Sutter work to grab a loose puck during the PIHL playoffs Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at Blade Runners in Bethel Park.

It's said that the goalie is your best penalty killer.

Actually, that's what Bill Crousey said following Thomas Jefferson's 5-4 PIHL Class A quarterfinal win over Deer Lakes.

Then he said it again, and again, and again

And who can blame him?

Nick Ripepi turned away a season-high 47 shots, including 10 during a three-minute, two-man advantage in a 3-3 game in the third period to help send Thomas Jefferson to the semifinals for the first time since 2004.

The Jaguars (16-5-1) will take on No. 2 Mars (18-5) — a 10-0 winner over Serra Catholic — at 8:45 p.m, Monday at Robert Morris University's Island Sports Center, and have their diminutive goalie to thank.

“It was pretty much all him,” Crousey said. “He was our best player tonight, and thank God he was.”

Ripepi came into the game with a 2.84 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage but was nearly unbeatable for the majority of the game, and especially on the power play.

Deer Lakes was 0 for 5 on the power play, including 0 for 2 with a two-man advantage.

“I just played my game and that's all I could do,” Ripepi said. “I didn't want to let my team down.”

Thomas Jefferson got two goals from Zach Uhlyar and Brendan Mason, along with a goal and assist from Nicholas Tamburi.

Ripepi allowed two goals to Thomas Lisowski on a pair of laser shots past his glove hand and two others to Mitchell Rupprecht, but was stout the rest of the way.

“He stood on his head for us, and he's been doing that a lot lately,” Uhlyar said. “We try to focus on defense because we know the goals are going to come. He was there when we needed him.”

The Jaguars needed Ripepi in a bad way early in the third period.

Mason was called for tripping and Uhlyar high-sticking 23 seconds apart to give Deer Lakes a two-man advantage for one minute, 37 seconds. That got extended when Bradley Delenko was called for roughing 54 seconds after Uhlyar's high stick.

“At that point of the game, I knew it was either going to make or break for us,” Ripepi said.

Ripepi turned away a flurry of close-range shots and deflections and, at one point, Tamburi snagged a slap shot out of the air with his hand.

“What a play by Tamburi,” Crousey said.

And what a play Uhlyar made moments later.

The puck was chipped out of the defensive zone to the near boards, where Uhlyar tapped it around the defenseman and was in all alone on Deer Lakes' goalie Jonathan Lang and beat him between his pads.

“Penalties have been killing us all year,” Uhlyar said. “I didn't necessarily agree with mine, but when I came out of the box there was nothing that was going to stop me. He opened up the five hole and that's where I went.”

The short-handed goal gave Thomas Jefferson a 4-3 lead.

“When we got that goal, you could see they kind of let up,” Crousey said. “It took some of their steam away, but that's not going to make it in the next round.”

Mason would score 90 seconds later to give TJ a 5-3 lead.

Deer Lakes would cut it to 4-3 on Rupprecht's goal at 8:50, but Ripepi wouldn't allow any more despite facing another power play late in the game and also a minute of 6-on-5 when the Lancers pulled Lang.

“Every time we play them I tell them that those kids aren't going away,” Crousey said. “We played them enough times that they don't stop coming. We weren't ready to play and got out of what we wanted to do. We found a way and that's a thing.

“That's all that matters. But we do have a lot of things to fix by Monday.”

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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