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Franklin Regional hockey tops Penn-Trafford, edges closer to playoff berth

Dave Mackall

As the PIHL regular season moves closer to the postseason, every game for a contender is precious.

Franklin Regional took full advantage of one of its few remaining opportunities to stay within sight of the packed leaders in the Class 2A Southeast Division by holding off Penn-Trafford, 6-4, on Monday night at Center Ice Arena.

Zachary Zeto scored two second-period goals in a span of 3 minutes, 32 seconds to put Franklin Regional in the lead for good after Shane Prucnal pulled the Panthers even at 2-2.

“Tonight,” Franklin Regional coach Brian Kurtz said, “we had secondary scoring that we haven’t had in a couple of games. We knew that this game obviously was a huge game for both teams.”

It was the first goals scored this season by Zeto and Prucnal, as Franklin Regional (8-6) rebounded from its worst loss a week ago, a 9-1 decision to Pine-Richland.

The victory also evened the season series with Penn-Trafford, which prevailed over Franklin Regional, 6-3, on Oct. 22. The Warriors (6-10), who dropped their fourth game in a row, saw their hopes of securing a playoff spot dwindle with three games remaining.

“It was a four-point swing with a team we’re chasing,” Penn-Trafford coach Chris Cerutti said. “We still have a chance, but we also have a schedule where we have to get every game from here on out. It’s to that point in the season where you’re scoreboard-watching.”

Franklin Regional’s 18 points keep the Panthers lodged in fourth place with three games to go. The top five teams in both divisions qualify for the playoffs.

Penn-Trafford’s 12 points put the Warriors in sixth place, three points behind Baldwin, which played a later game against Moon, for the final playoff spot in the division.

Kevin Cakanac also scored twice for Franklin Regional, including an empty-netter in the final minute, after Penn-Trafford closed within 5-4 on goals by Nathaniel Fetsick and Jack Hughes, who scored twice for the Warriors.

“It was a really well-played game,” Cerutti said. “It was a good game for the fans to watch, but we dug ourselves a hole in the second period and had to fight like crazy to get back into it.”

The teams traded first-period goals, Hughes scoring for Penn-Trafford at 5:12 and Cekanac for Franklin Regional at 9:56.

After Gavin Patrick’s goal 34 seconds into the second period put Penn-Trafford back in front, 2-1, Prucnal’s goal tied it 1:28 later.

Zeto’s back-to-back goals gave Franklin Regional a 4-2 lead after two periods, and Trent Lunden’s added another at 4:14 of the third to boost the lead to 5-2.

When Penn-Trafford closed within a goal, the Warriors pulled goaltender Braiden O’Connor in the final minutes, and Cakanac gained control of the puck at center ice and skated in unguarded to score an empty-net goal and ice the outcome.

“We got a good overall effort tonight, better than when we played them the first time around,” Kurtz said. “In the first game, we came out flat and they jumped on us early and we didn’t respond well. We’ve been up and down, but I’m pleased with how we responded after the Pine-Richland game.”

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.