Baldwin hockey falls in semifinals
Baldwin's varsity hockey team took first place in the Western Conference this season, securing a top seed in the PIHL Class A playoffs.
After receiving a first-round bye, the Highlanders dropped a tough 3-2 decision to fifth-seeded Montour in the PIHL semifinal round.
Sophomore forward Lucas Kirk and senior forward Paul Knerr netted goals for Baldwin. Knerr, junior defenseman Dan Figura and sophomore forward Ross Zofcin were credited with assists.
“Obviously, the season didn't end how we wanted it to,” coach Justin Glock said. “Montour was a tough matchup for us. We beat them twice in the regular season, but each game we won could've gone either way. Our playoff game came down to a few plays, and we found ourselves on the short end of the stick.
“That's not to say the team didn't give it everything they had. I was proud of the effort. If we play Montour 10 times, we may split five and five.”
Baldwin fought off four other teams — Thomas Jefferson, Chartiers Valley, South Fayette and Montour — in winning the conference championship.
Montour led the conference offensively with 99 goals.
“We definitely got better at the end of the season,” Glock said. “We went 5-0-1 and were playing our best hockey going into the playoffs. We just played a Montour team that matched up with us well, and a team that was basically equal to us even though the records show different.
“I believe we were the first Baldwin team to win their division since about 1984. That's quite an accomplishment for the players, as our division had so much parity. We found a way to win many close games throughout the season.”
Knerr led the Highlanders in scoring with 30 goals and 13 assists, good for 41 points.
“Overall, I feel this season was successful,” Knerr said. “We had a plan, and even though we didn't win the Pens Cup, we battled hard and had fun along the way. I couldn't have asked for a better group of kids for my senior year.”
Other leading scorers included Kirk (14 goals, 12 assists), senior forward Dom Carlino (5 goals, 19 assists), Figura (8 goals, 15 assists), Zofcin (7 goals, 14 assists) and junior defenseman Nick Antonio (5 goals, 15 assists).
Sophomore Cole Shannon and junior Dylan DeSimone shared the Highlanders' goaltending job.
Figura, a big, strapping defenseman, scored one of the team's biggest goals of the season in a 5-4 win against Thomas Jefferson.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Figura connected for the game-winner with 36.4 seconds remaining in overtime.
Knerr, Carlino, Antonio and Shannon were chosen for the PIHL Class A all-star game. Carlino served as the Highlanders' team captain this season; Knerr and Antonio were assistant captains.
Glock, in his first year at the helm, guided Baldwin to a 12-4-2 regular-season record. The Highlanders gained an 84-49 overall scoring edge to rank among the conference's best offensive and defensive teams.
The Highlanders also finished as the top power play unit in Class A, scoring on about 33 percent of their opportunities.
“I wouldn't have wanted to coach any other team,” said Glock, who was selected to be an assistant coach at the Class A all-star game. “The players treated one another like family. They showed respect for the JV and middle school players when they had interactions with them. There were no egos, and it was all about what was best for the team. Everyone made a mistake here or there, but every player's heart was in the right place.”
Knerr, Carlino and forward Trevor Gorman were the only seniors on the 2016-17 squad.
“Every returning player will be expected to contribute more next year than they did this year,” Glock said, “as we are losing some of our top scorers and leaders of our team. We need everyone to step up next year.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.