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Armstrong suffers setback in PIHL semifinal

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 12:09 a.m.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Armstrong senior Christian Miller (right) is second in Class AA this season with 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) for the Riverhawks, who are off to a 4-1 start.

Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for Armstrong in the first period of its PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA semifinal against Erie Cathedral Prep.

The Riverhawks allowed a goal 25 seconds in, trailed by three by the end of the frame and watched their captain, Hunter Grafton, hobble into the locker room with a knee injury. Still, Armstrong summoned enough effort to give the Ramblers everything they could handle — twice erasing a multiple-goal deficit.

It wasn't enough, though, to give the Riverhawks a Penguins Cup berth in the program's inaugural season. No. 2 seed Erie Cathedral Prep outlasted No. 3 Armstrong, scoring three goals in the final seven minutes to pull away for a 9-5 victory Tuesday at Robert Morris' Island Sports Center.

“They weren't hanging their heads,” Armstrong coach Doug Anthony said. “You could see it in their eyes. They weren't done. We got momentum and put some pucks in the net but not enough tonight.”

Prep will play No. 1 Bishop Canevin in the final at 6:45 p.m. Monday at Consol Energy Center.

The Ramblers (18-4-2) took control early. Trevor Faulkner squirted loose and beat Armstrong goalie Taylor Smouse for a breakaway goal just 25 seconds after the opening faceoff. Faulkner put the finishing touches on Armstrong (17-6-1), scoring the game's final three goals to finish with four.

“Faulkner is a very gifted player,” Ramblers coach Craig Barnett said. “He got it going tonight.”

Prep added to its first-period lead. Hunter Emerson cashed in off a well-placed feed from Shane Cross with 3:11 remaining before Brandon Gotkin went top shelf to give Prep a 3-0 cushion with 1:16 to go.

The Ramblers almost made it 4-0, but a last-second shot crossed the goal line moments after the first-period buzzer.

Between periods, Grafton was escorted off the ice, noticeably favoring his left leg.

“That hurt,” Anthony said. “He's the heart and soul of this team, and he makes a lot of things happen.”

The Riverhawks battled back as Nick Long scored a power-play goal with 11:03 to go in the second period. Then David Contrael and Christian Miller scored 30 seconds apart to pull Armstrong even with 8:11 to play in the second.

“We decided to change our forecheck up, and it worked for a while,” Anthony said. ”Erie is a great hockey team. They had a good game plan, and they're well coached.”

Armstong also had two goals waved off in the second, one after the net was dislodged seconds before the puck crossed the goal line and moments later after the play appeared to be mistakenly blown dead.

Prep reasserted itself late in the middle period. Joe Kelly and Richard Vicary scored to give the Ramblers a 5-3 cushion.

Armstrong began another comeback early in the third. John Phelps netted a goal 51 seconds into the period to put the Riverhawks within striking distance, before Long tallied his second of the game with 13 minutes to play.

Jacob Ordos scored the game-winning goal with 5:14 to go, tipping in a rebound in front of the net. Faulkner gave the Ramblers breathing roombefore adding an empty-netter and another breakaway goal.

“The big key for us was showing the character we had,” Barnett said.

Jason Orfao is a freelance writer.

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