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Serra Catholic hockey team fends off Kittanning

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 11:40 p.m.
Serra Catholic sophomore William Purdue pokes the puck by goaltender Taylor Smouse during a 5-4 win over host Kittanning Thursday night at the Belmont Complex.
Kittanning's Eli Johns (center) celebrates after jamming a rebound past goalie Ian Ritchie during a 5-4 loss to Serra Catholic Thursday night at the Belmont Complex.
Serra Catholic sophomore William Purdue celebrates after scoring during a 5-4 win over Kittanning Thursday at the Belmont Complex.

When Kittanning and Serra Catholic's hockey teams reflect a couple months from now, both might view the game they played Thursday night at the Belmont Complex as a pivotal moment in their respective seasons.

The Eagles (2-3), who won the PIHL Class A contest, 5-4, better grasped the full potential of their underclassmen-laden lineup.

“With young guys, the experience in different situations like this is key,” Serra Catholic coach Brian Boehm said.

“We can't just rely on (seniors Tyler) Speis and (Nicholas) Vacsulka — I mean, obviously, our offense runs through those two. But when you get that support from your lower lines and your younger guys, you're going to have a chance to win every game.”

And the Wildcats (3-2-1) gained a deeper understanding of the fact that, in a deviation from past seasons, they're not able to overcome defensive-end miscues with a barrage of goals.

“With some of the teams we've had, in a lot of games, we could make a lot of mistakes and still win, 9-2,” Kittanning coach Jamie King said. “I think in games like this, when you end up losing, (those mistakes) carry more weight. If you point out a mistake in the third period when you're way ahead, it doesn't really sink in. But in a game like this, it does.”

Serra Catholic rallied to erase the 2-0 deficit it faced midway through the second period, scored five goals unanswered, and then survived Kittanning's late-game comeback bid.

Several young players' performances jumped off the scorer's sheet. Sophomore goaltender Ian Ritchie made 34 saves.

Freshman Roman Kraemer scored what ultimately was the game-winner and also had an assist. And sophomore William Purdue scored Serra Catholic's fourth goal with 1:59 left in the second period.

Vacsulka, who also had two assists, and Speis delivered on behalf of the senior class. Speis scored Serra Catholic's first two goals, the latter of which came during a penalty kill.

“If you ask coach, he'll tell you about the history of our captains, and he'll say that it's our duty — me and Nick and Tyler Kresl — to take (games) by storm,” Speis said. “We are a very young team ... so we really have to take it over sometimes.”

Serra Catholic's second-period surge — the first four goals came during a six-minute span — completely shifted the game's momentum, which had belonged to Kittanning for almost all of the first period and the start of the second.

Eli Johns scored less than three minutes into the game, and Christian Miller one-timed a cross-ice pass from Hunter Grafton to give the Wildcats a two-goal lead with 8:27 left in the second.

The offense lost its rhythm once Serra Catholic began to clear pucks before the Wildcats could organize their forecheck.

Grafton ended Kittanning's drought midway through the third and scored again during a five-on-three power play with 7:24 left in the game.

Kittanning put six more shots on net in the final few minutes, but it failed to sneak another past Ritchie.

“It's just that desperation that's needed the entire game,” King said.

“We were good with desperation in the third period. But I know Eli (Johns), our captain, said, ‘We've got to find that desperation (earlier).' ”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303.

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