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TJ beats Mars to advance to Penguins Cup final

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 12:51 a.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Tribune Review
Mars captain Craig Mazzotta (right), chasing a loose puck during the PIHL Class A semifinals, is one of eight seniors the hockey program will have to replace next season.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Tribune Review
Thomas Jefferson players celebrate their 4-2 win over Mars in a PIHL semifinal Monday, March 10, 2014, at RMU Island Sports Center.

Bill Crousey has been preaching defense all season. Even after Thomas Jefferson peppered an undermanned Mars team during a January game, Crousey harped on the lack of defense by his team.

Days like Monday are reasons why.

Thomas Jefferson jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead in a Penguins Cup Class A semifinal game against Mars but had no choice but to switch to a defense-first mentality for the better part of a period-and-a-half after Nick Tamburi was lost to an arm injury.

It resulted in five shots the rest of the way for the Jags, but it was enough to send Thomas Jefferson to the Penguins Cup championship for the first time since 2007 with a 4-2 win over Mars at RMU Island Sports Center.

Thomas Jefferson (17-5-1) will take on two-time defending champion Quaker Valley (23-1-0), a 4-3 winner over Freeport, on Monday at 5 p.m. at Consol Energy Center for the Penguins Cup.

Tommy Kimmick had two goals and an assist, and Zach Uhlyar and Tamburi added a goal an assist each as the Jaguars stretched their unbeaten streak to eight.

“I yelled at them after that game in January and told them that we will never win a game in March unless we play defense,” Crousey said. “We just had to do what we had to do, and that was defense.”

Thomas Jefferson shifted to a two-center, three-wing attack and sacrificed offense for defense. Over the final five minutes, TJ went strictly with two lines, and it worked to perfection against a Mars team that played in the past six Penguins Cup title games.

“We all came together to play a defensive game,” Uhlyar said. “We all back checked and grinded it out to get the win.”

Thomas Jefferson's offense provided goalie Nick Ripepi the cushion he needed with two goals in the first. Ripepi improved 14-5-2 as he turned away 24 of the 26 shots he faced.

During their meeting Jan. 16, Mars played without its top line and top three scorers — Nick Makozy (44 points), Craig Mazzotta (44), Beau Heakins (34) — and six of its top eight forwards.

“They thought they were going to come in all cocky and show us that they are the best in the league, and we wanted to prove them wrong,” Kimmick said.

Uhlyar agreed.

“We knew everybody was counting us out,” Uhlyar said. “We used that to get us through that game. We got up early and held them off. We gutted it out.”

Thomas Jefferson barely had puck possession over the initial 10 minutes of the game but was able to strike first. Uhlyar grabbed a turnover inside his own zone and flipped the puck on goalie Tyler Spreng. Tamburi knocked in the rebound for a 1-0 lead.

The Jaguars scored again three minutes later on Kimmick's shot just from inside the blue line that eluded Spreng's blocker and gave TJ a 2-0 lead on just three shots on goal.

The Jaguars extended their lead to 3-0 moments into the second period when Uhlyar banged a rebound past Spreng for a power-play goal. TJ scored three goals on its first eight shots.

After the teams traded goals 24 seconds apart midway through the second to make it 4-1, Mazzotta scored 5:53 into the third to make it 4-2, but Mars couldn't get any closer.

“This means a lot to us because everybody in our school kept telling us that we need to get there,” Kimmick said. “The basketball team didn't do it. The football team didn't do it. But we did.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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