Dressed Down Wildcats blow late lead in first game since fire
EAST FRANKLIN TWP. — Fans and players alike applauded the efforts of firemen who saved the Kittanning hockey team's equipment during a Sunday morning fire that destroyed the team's locker room in a building adjacent to the Belmont Arena.
It's just too bad that they weren't able to salvage the Wildcats' game along with it.
Indiana junior varsity call-up Zac Damico chipped a deflection past Kittanning goaltender Adam Toy for a power-play goal at 13:41 of the third period to salvage a 2-2 tie with PIHL-AA North Division-leading Kittanning.
"We had momentum and all we needed was a bounce," Indiana head coach Dominick Glavach said. "I was just happy to see a call go our way."
Kittanning defenseman Wade Bowser couldn't have been more disappointed. He was the player sent off for slashing at 12:22 that handed the Indians their opportunity.
"It's a one-goal game against a team that we're going back and forth with and that's a situation where you have to be disciplined on your choices of what you want to do," Kittanning head coach Jeff Smouse said. "I just thought that was a penalty we didn't have to take."
At the time Kittanning was working its 1-2-2 forecheck to perfection and had Indiana running around in the neutral zone. The Indians did not have a shot for more than two minutes prior to Bowser taking the penalty.
"It wasn't (a play) that was going to cost a game," Smouse said. "He was just entering the neutral zone and it wasn't like it was a breakaway where it would have been a good penalty."
Instead the penalty took Kittanning out of its neutral zone trap and forced a late kill. Indiana forward Zack Diamond jumped into the play in the Kittanning zone and took the initial shot which Toy stopped, but Damico chipped the rebound high over Toy's glove to send the game into overtime.
"There was nothing there that I could do," Toy said. "My stick was on the ice and he did a good job. He did get a good tip on it and I didn't really have much I could do with it."
It was one of the few shots Toy did have a problem with. He stopped 30 shots including an outstanding save on Mike Appolonia with 1:16 to play in overtime and another on Diamond with one tick on the clock.
Not to be outdone, Indiana netminder Mike Mentch stoned the Wildcats at almost every turn, whipping aside 34 of the 36 shots he faced.
Kittanning (14-3-1) did find a chink in Mentch's armor at 6:34 of the first period when Eddie Germy converted Luke Heller's rebound into his team-leading 17th goal to put the Wildcats ahead 1-0. Indiana knotted it at 5:03 of the second period, but Kittanning reclaimed the lead with 53 seconds to play in the frame when Dustin Kellner beat Mentch 5-hole on a shot off a faceoff to hand the Wildcats a one-goal lead at the intermission.
Kittanning had a distinct advantage in the first two periods. Indiana was called for five straight penalties from the start of the game, including a 1:17 two-man advantage in the second period, but the Wildcats were unable to convert on any of their opportunities. The Indians killed off all six Kittanning power plays and tied the game on only their second chance with the man-advantage.
"At the intermission I thought that one of the next penalties is going to be ours because that's the tendency of the game," Smouse said. "Late in the game that's when you've really got to be disciplined and decide whether it's a good penalty to take and that's not the situation we had."
It really hasn't been a very good week for the Wildcats. They had their 13-game winning streak snapped at home against Pine-Richland, eked out a one-goal win over a Hampton team they blew out 7-0 the first time they played and had to sift through the aftermath of the fire that destroyed their locker room and forced an emergency restoration project by Esporta to even get them on the ice for the game.
It was these efforts, especially by the firefighters who threw the equipment bags out of the disintegrating locker room and saved the team thousands of dollars, that prompted a pre-game ceremony honoring representatives of the companies that helped extinguish the blaze and gave them free admission to the game.
"We wanted to make sure those firemen knew how much we appreciated what they did for us," Kittanning Hockey Boosters president Joe Avi said. "The circumstances were horrible that morning. Obviously they're special people and their drive was incredible to whatever they could."
They just couldn't hose Indiana down in the final two minutes of regulation.