Franklin Regional hockey team falls to Bayard Rustin in state championship game
It's four in a row for Bayard Rustin.
Although, this one was more of a challenge.
The Golden Knights needed overtime to beat Franklin Regional, 2-1, for the Pennsylvania Cup Class A championship Saturday afternoon at RMU Island Sports Center. It marks the program's fourth straight state crown and fifth in nine years.
“I know that has never been done in the East. I know Meadville and Bishop McCort did it (in the West), and they are great teams. It's great being in that world,” Rustin coach Nick Russo said. “We've done some research, and I think since 1930, there's only been 16 teams in all the sports in the state that have won four (state titles) in a row. So we're No. 17.
“Two great teams. Franklin has nothing to be ashamed of. They had a great season. I am just glad it was a good goal and didn't go in off someone. They have a lot to be proud of. My guys played great, too. I can't wait to watch it because I think I'd enjoy it a lot more from the stands than the bench.”
The Panthers (20-2-0), who won their second Penguins Cup title, fell to Rustin, 6-0, in last year's state championship at Penn State.
“We put ourselves in a position to win the game. Going in, that's all we expected,” Franklin Regional coach Brian Kurtz said. “It's not the outcome we wanted, but we left it all out there.”
The Panthers took an early 1-0 lead over the Golden Knights (19-2-2). Mathieu Sliva fed a pass to Jamie Mauro in the slot, and he fired a shot past goaltender Jason Grande.
Franklin Regional had a chance to add to its lead with 3 minutes, 44 seconds left in the second. Justin Carter's shot in front was stopped, but the rebound popped back to him. He had an open net, but his backhander sailed wide.
The Golden Knights' Brett Turner poked in a rebound 1:10 later to tie the score.
Both teams had scoring opportunities in the third. Grande denied Mauro in the slot with 8:12 to go, and Franklin Regional's Dan Soltesz countered when he denied a Rustin breakaway 27 seconds later.
The Panthers opened overtime with a power play but failed to convert.
“We couldn't get set up. They did a nice job — hats off to them — playing us pretty aggressive and not giving us a chance to set up and get our timing going,” Kurtz said. “We had a couple opportunities. Their goalie played fantastic, and we didn't get any puck luck.”
After another Franklin Regional scoring chance, Rustin sophomore Matt Owens ended the game 3:07 into the extra period. He sped behind the Panthers' defense and slipped a shot past Soltesz.
“That's kind of how these games go. We had our opportunity,” Kurtz said. “The puck was there. We didn't capitalize on it, and we got caught maybe trying to be a little too aggressive defensively trying to jump up into that play. They snuck behind us for a breakaway. Danny bit on the first move and couldn't recover to get back to the post, and they were able to sneak it in.”
Grande stopped 28 shots to earn the win, and Soltesz made 36 saves.
“It was like momentum never really got established by anybody. They had their chances, and we had ours,” Russo said. “Both goalies played fantastic. They were two well-coached teams, and the penalties were low. What more can you ask for?”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.