Bradford Thornburgh made 20 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, and North Allegheny won its second PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup championship with a 2-0 win against Peters Township Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.
Thornburgh, a junior who led PIHL Class AAA with a 1.98 goals-against average during the regular season, lowered his postseason number to 1.29 with a dominating performance that was aided by an airtight Tigers’ defense.
“Their defense played great, but our defense played the best game of the season,” Thornburgh said. “That’s what it came down to in the end.”
Joe Griffin had two third-period goals for No. 3 seed North Allegheny (18-4-2), which will play in the Pennsylvania Cup state championship game against Flyers Cup champion LaSalle Saturday in Aston.
“Honestly we were sitting in the locker room, we were all relaxed and we kind of looked at each other and we said we knew we had this game,” Griffin said. “We just felt that we had it. Sometimes you just get that feeling.”
North Allegheny’s other Penguins Cup came in 2007, which also was the Tigers’ most recent appearance in the title game.
Goalie Brian Baker was brilliant in defeat for No. 1 Peters Township (19-5), which had a 15-game winning streak snapped. Baker made 23 saves, and only one intended shot taken by a North Allegheny player beat him all night.
Joe Griffin was credited with a shorthanded goal 5:10 into the third after Indians defenseman Carter Ekberg was carrying the puck down the near boards into North Allegheny’s right-wing corner. Griffin pressured him from behind, forcing Ekberg to play the puck toward the center of the ice. The puck went into the net, bouncing off Baker’s skate.
“You feel bad on that side, you don’t want to see that happen to a young player,” NA coach Jim Black said. “But Joe pressured him and I’ll say that I don’t know if we got a lot of bounces this year, but to get that bounce at the right time, this point of the season, we really haven’t had that.”
Griffin made it 2-0 when he finished off a pretty give-and-go with Matt Fantaski with a wrist shot that beat Baker from low in the right circle.
Griffin left the puck for Fantaski in the right-wing corner and went to the slot before Fantaski gave it back.
The sequence occurred not long after Thornburgh stopped Brad Tylenda on a wrist shot in close.
“Our defensemen played phenomenal, Bradford was unbelievable and a big contributor was the forwards did a good job of slowing them down in the neutral zone and really backchecking hard to the house and helping out,” Black said. “We kept them to the outside.”
It was not surprising that the teams got locked into a low-scoring, defensive-oriented affair. North Allegheny allowed the fewest goals in Class AAA during the regular season; Peters Township was third in the classification.
During the postseason, the Indians permitted three goals, and the Tigers allowed four in two prior games.
But that doesn’t mean both teams don’t possess firepower. As Baker said, “In the championship, you have to step up your defense another level.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.