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Hockey

Franklin Regional hockey team falls to Bayard Rustin in Class A state final

Michael Love
| Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 4:45 p.m.

Franklin Regional ice hockey head coach Brian Kurtz said his team wasn't happy to just make it to the Class A PA Cup Championship game Saturday at Penn State University.

He said his Panthers, who defeated South Fayette last week for its first-ever Penguins Cup title, had designs on upsetting two-time PA Cup champion Bayard Rustin.

However, the Golden Knights used their experience, speed and physicality to score a 6-0 victory and deny FR a championship cap to an already memorable 2015-16 season.

“We had a business-like attitude going up there,” Kurtz said. “We had a good feeling. But (Bayard Rustin) is a tough team.”

Bayard Rustin came to the state title game after beating Quaker Valley and Mars in the state finals the past two seasons.

“There was a calmness among the players at the start of the game,” Kurtz said.

“They were more calm than in the Penguin Cup (title game). They had won that big game, and they were confident they could do it again. You have to have that attitude no matter what the challenge is.”

Both goaltenders, including Panthers freshman Dan Soltesz, made some big saves early. However Bayard Rustin broke through with two in the first period, added one in the second and tallied three in the third.

“They are a very skilled team and probably the fastest team we've seen all year long,” Kurtz said. “They were big and physical, and they used that to their advantage. They also had great goaltending. When you're up against all of that, it makes for a very difficult task.”

The Golden Knights were 2 for 4 on the power play while Franklin Regional was 0 for 7 with the man advantage.

“They had a very aggressive penalty kill, and it disrupted our timing,” Kurtz said. “We couldn't get set up in the zone the way we wanted to. We had some good chances. It was a little frustrating to not get one on the power play.”

Despite the loss in the state title game, Kurtz said there are a plethora of things from the season which his team can look back on and be proud.

The Panthers came into the playoffs as the third team from the Eastern Conference after a 16-6 regular season. Victories over Montour, the Western Conference runner-up, and Eastern Conference champ Bishop McCort put them in the finals.

It was an improvement on last season when FR suffered a loss in the playoffs' first round.

“The work ethic and attitude of the players and the commitment starting in April of last year was tremendous,” Kurtz said.

“They had a goal of getting to the playoffs and winning a championship. They dealt with key injuries along the way which affected some of our losses. They put it all together at the right time for the playoffs. The kids leaned on our depth, and they had the mindset of believing they could win.”

Eight seniors — Aaron Bartifay, Ethan Bennett, Drake Brown, Kolden Cook, Santino Decesare, Brandon Meszar, Dakota McIntyre and Nicholas Paone — will move on from the program.

“It really meant a lot to give the seniors the memory of a championship,” Kurtz said. “They experienced some really tough times, and they might not have envisioned getting a team to the Penguin Cup championship. To see them hoist that cup was a great feeling.”

Kurtz said the mindset for the returning players is to put their name on the Penguins Cup again and get back to Penn State.

“When we lost Saturday, it was a disappointment for everyone, but we use that as a motivation for the underclassmen,” Kurtz said. “There is a lot of talent coming back and a lot of other opportunities for younger players in the program. It's going to take that same commitment. We have some unfinished business.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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