Baldwin hockey captures Open Class championship

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 10:44 p.m.

Baldwin's hockey team racked up plenty of goals during the regular season.

The Highlanders had no problem generating offense in the playoffs, either.

Baldwin's scorers were strong once again as the Highlanders posted a 7-4 win over Harbor Creek on Wednesday to capture the PIHL Open Cup championship at the RMU Island Sports Center.

“It's a big win. I knew I had a heck of a hockey team,” Baldwin coach Jim Brown said. “The boys had a lot of heart and they were on a mission. We've played this way for the last 20 weeks. We played a very good hockey team and got a little sloppy in the end. Bottom line, this is good for our program and our seniors.”

Originally scheduled for Sunday, the game was postponed because of snow. That didn't seem to affect the Highlanders (22-1-1), who advanced to the title game with Thursday's 5-1 win over Hempfield for the Northeast Conference championship. Baldwin led the PIHL Open Class with 196 goals in 20 regular-season games. The Highlanders outscored their first three playoff opponents 32-6 entering the battle with the Huskies (21-2-0), who beat Morgantown, 5-1, for the Southwest Conference title.

Anthony Alaimo got Baldwin on the scoreboard 47 seconds into the game. He gathered a loose pick inside the right face-off circle and wristed the puck over goaltender Tyler Manna's shoulder.

The Highlanders went on the power play around halfway through the first, but failed to convert.

Baldwin got another man advantage with 7:24 left in the first period. Alaimo nearly made it a 2-0 game 36 seconds later, but Manna slid to his left to make the save on the one-timer.

Max Milan gave the Highlanders a 2-0 advantage just before the first intermission. Alaimo tossed a puck toward the net and Milan tipped it past Manna with 15.5 seconds left on the clock.

Alaimo gave Baldwin a 3-0 lead early in the second. Standing in front of the Huskies' goal, Alaimo slammed in a rebound 1:10 into the period.

“You can't always expect (to score a lot), but you can hope for the best. We gave it our all right off the bat,” Alaimo said. “Four years I've been playing for this team and we've always made it to the playoffs. To take it all now was amazing.”

The Huskies used special teams to get on the scoreboard with 12:47 remaining in the second. On a two-man advantage, Harbor Creek's Ryan Markiewicz wristed a shot from the slot past Matt Yauch.

Still on the power play, the Huskies had several chances to reduce the deficit with a barrage of shots, but the Highlanders killed off the second penalty.

Baldwin's Brian Dee took a loose puck at the red line and slipped through a pair of Huskies defenders. He broke in alone on goal and his wrister sailed into the top right corner of the net to give the Highlanders a 4-1 lead with 9:29 to play.

Harbor Creek turned up the pressure later in the second. The Huskies had two quality scoring chances. Jamie Collins closed quickly on the far post, but Yauch robbed him with a quick glove save with 8:04 remaining. Zack Morris had a wide-open look at the net from the near circle, but his wrister sailed just over the crossbar.

Dee cashed in for his second goal with 32.5 remaining in the second period. Following a Harbor Creek turnover in its own end, Dee received a Paul Knerr pass in the slot and his hard wrister sailed into the goal for a 5-1 lead.

Knerr made it 6-1 when he slid a wide-open shot past Manna 3:21 into the third period.

Jake McCue's slapper from the right circle found nylon with 9:07 to play to push Baldwin's lead to 7-1.

Harbor Creek's Nick Rocco came through with a power-play goal with 7:11 on the clock to trim the deficit to 7-2. The Huskies added two late goals in the final minute.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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