HATFIELD TOWNSHIP—Truly great players step up when it matters. That’s the case in every sport and it was certainly the case when North Penn and Pennridge squared off Wednesday night in their Suburban High School Hockey League semifinal.
Michael Walker scored what proved to be the winning goal with 9:55 left in the third period and followed up by scoring into an empty net with 18 seconds to go to give the Rams a 6-4 win on a night when some of the SHSHL’s elite players showed the audience at Hatfield Ice why they have achieved that status.
Walker provided an assist to go with his two goals. Eric Slater, perhaps the premier sniper in the SHSHL’s Class AA division, helped the Rams’ cause with a goal and an assist while Luke Stranick was impressive in goal.
Meantime, Josh Albano was contributing three goals for the Knights while Nathan Oh was helping out with three assists.
As a result of all this, it was anyone’s game until the late going. With the game tied 4-4 the third-seeded Knights (11-4-3) lost Luke Van Why to a tripping penalty. It took Walker just 17 seconds to put the Rams (13-2-3) in front; he scored via a feed from Slater off a faceoff.
But Stranick knew he and his teammates couldn’t relax. “It definitely keeps me dialed in,” he said. “My defense does a really good job of keeping the pucks coming from the outside and when they do that, it makes it a lot easier for me and the team.”
Blake Stewart and Tommy Pichardo sported the Rams two goals to the good by the 5:18 mark of the first period but Albano answered back, scoring two goals in a span of 2 minutes, 9 seconds to tie the game.
“I thought that early on we struggled a little bit defensively,” said Pennridge coach Jeff Montagna. “We started to settle down. I told them ‘The mark of a good team is when you do struggle and don’t have your ‘A’ game’ … The older guys made a play every single time we needed one.”
Freshman Aidan Boyle scored his first varsity goal to put Pennridge up 3-2 at the 3:02 mark of the second frame. Thomas Boyle answered for the Knights just 41 seconds later.
Slater put the Rams back in front when he scored with 39 seconds left in the period but Albano finished his hat trick at 5:19 of the third frame to set the stage for the conclusion.
“We knew they had a number of talented players up front,” said North Penn coach Kevin Vaitis. “I don’t think you’re ever going to stop them, I think you just look to contain them. I thought we did a decent job of that but they’re still (dangerous).”
The win puts second-seeded Pennridge into Thursday’s championship game (6:50 at Hatfield Ice) against top-seed Central Bucks South which is seeking an unprecedented fifth straight SHSHL title.
Pennridge is seeking to claim its first title since 2008.
Notes: The semifinal featured 17-minute periods (instead of 16) and in ice cut after the second stanza, the same format that will be utilized for the Flyers Cup semifinals and finals … Four officials were on the ice.
North Penn 2 1 1—4
Pennridge 2 2 2—6
First-period goals: Blake Stewart (P) from Matt Guinette, 3:14; Tommy Pichardo (P) from Guinette, 5:56; Josh Albano (NP) from Nathan Oh and Tommy Tuozzo, 10:06; Albano, (NP) from Tyler Greenstein and Oh (pp).
Second-period goals: Aidan Boyle (P) from Frankie Rota, 3:02; Thomas Boyle, (NP) from Oh, 3:44; Eric Slater (P) from Stewart, 16:39.
Third-period goals: Albano (NP) from Oh and Josh Kaufhold, 5;17 (pp); Michael Walker (P) from Slater, 7:05 (pp); Walker (P) unassisted, 16:42.
Shots: North Penn 32, Pennridge 35; Saves: Nick Ebbinghaus (NP) 29, Luke Stranick (P) 28.
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