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Rough stretch of losses keeps Penn-Trafford hockey out of postseason | TribLIVE.com
High School Hockey

Rough stretch of losses keeps Penn-Trafford hockey out of postseason

Jerin Steele
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Penn-Trafford’s Ben Leslie competes against Baldwin’s Ross Zofcin (84) in a PIHL game Jan. 14, 2019, at Ice Castle.
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Penn-Trafford’s Jack Hughes (right) battles for possession with Baldwin’s Jason Kavulic during a recent game.

After going through a difficult five-game losing streak that put postseason aspirations on thin ice, a 4-3 win over Latrobe on Monday provided the Penn-Trafford hockey team a brief moment of hope.

For a couple hours the Warriors kept their playoff chances alive, but they were eliminated later in the evening after Baldwin, the team ahead of them in the standings, finished off a 6-3 win over Upper St. Clair.

In the end, a difficult month of January full of missed opportunities proved too much to overcome and will keep the Warriors out of the Penguins Cup playoffs.

Penn-Trafford (7-11) lost three of the five games by two goals in its January swoon that spilled into early February, including one to Baldwin on Jan. 14 that turned out to be a crucial blow to its playoff chances.

The Warriors led on three separate occasions in the game, but surrendered three consecutive goals in the final nine minutes and lost 5-3.

The loss started a snowball effect. Three days later they lost 6-4 to Moon, followed by a 13-2 loss to Hempfield, a 6-4 loss to Franklin Regional and an 8-3 loss to Upper St. Clair in the following weeks.

Warriors coach Chris Cerutti said there were two main themes in the losses: either they had a brief bad stretch that ruined a good effort or a slow start that forced them to play from behind.

“There was that one critical week for us where we had games against Moon and Baldwin where we didn’t come out ready to play,” Cerutti said. “When we stepped on the ice we were flat-footed. Our team likes to play with the lead and generate offense, but we put ourselves in a position where we had to push for that offense. In turn, that caused a few mistakes and they capitalized on them.

“Other times we would have four or five minutes of a mental lapse in the game, and that would prove to be the difference. Whether it was a breakdown that led to a high quality chance that led to a goal or taking penalties and giving up power-play goals, it just seemed like we would have a little stretch that we couldn’t rebound from.”

In the Latrobe game, Penn-Trafford instituted a 1-2-2 neutral zone trap to limit shot attempts, and it produced good results. Ryan Mickey had a pair of goals in the second period, and Ashton Adamek added another goal that gave the Warriors a 4-2 lead, and they held off the Wildcats in the third.

“The kids had that desperate mentality that I wish we would have played with over the course of the last month, so we wouldn’t be in this situation right now,” Cerutti said. “They came to play (Monday) and bought into the system. From the beginning of the game everyone saw that (the 1-2-2 trap) was working, so everyone bought in. We stuck to the game plan, and it turned out in our favor.”

Penn-Trafford was scheduled to finish its season Monday with a road game against Plum at Pittsburgh Ice Arena in New Kensington.

The Warriors graduate nine seniors and have lost 38 players to graduation over the last three years. Among the soon-to-be graduates are the top two scorers Ben Leslie and Gavin Patrick. Leslie is fifth in Class AA in scoring with 39 points and Patrick is one point behind him in sixth.

Cerutti said Patrick is committed to play ACHA Division I hockey at Slippery Rock, and Leslie is still weighing his options between college and junior hockey.

“Gavin is smart and he knows where to be to create offense for himself even when he doesn’t have the puck,” Cerutti said. “He reads his teammates well, and he’s a great locker room guy. He’s got great character, so he’ll be a big loss for the team.

“Ben has raw hockey ability. He’s can shoot, he can stickhandle and he’s fast. He’s a great team player. He was unanimously chosen as our captain by his peers, so that goes to tell you what kind of leader he is in the locker room.”

Jack Hughes, who’s tied for eighth in Class AA with 38 points, will return, along with Mickey and John Sieber. The Warriors also have a junior varsity class coming up that’s 13-0-1 this season, and some of those players got a taste of varsity action.

“One way to look at this season from an optimistic approach is we had a good chance to get some of our younger players a chance to play varsity,” Cerutti said. “We had some injuries and some kids miss a couple games for travel hockey, so we had to call up some junior varsity players. They got to see the difference between JV and varsity in terms of the speed of the game. I think that can definitely help the organization going forward.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.