After his team went 1-1-1 in its first three games, Pennridge coach Jeff Montagna was not happy. More so than the record, the coach was not pleased with the way his team was playing defense.
The Rams reversed course in a near-shutout win over CB West Dec. 5 at Hatfield Ice.
“Two of the first three games, what killed us was our defense,” explained Montagna. “Tonight, they shut them down. They gave them no room to move out there.”
Pennridge took it to the Bucks from the opening faceoff, tallying twice in each of the first two periods on its way to a convincing 5-1 win over their Continental Conference foes.
Just 6:46 into the first period, the big man Michael White poked home his own rebound, putting the Rams up 1-0 early. With less than five minutes left in the initial frame, CB West senior Chris Trefz went in all alone on Pennridge goalkeeper Luke Stranick, but to no avail.
Making matters worse for the Bucks, senior Eric Slater made his lone man rush count when he grabbed a hold of a turnover and tucked a goal inside the far right post 12:05 into the first period.
The Rams kept hammering away at CB West, especially in the first period when they outshot the Bucks 11-3. Forty-four seconds into the second period, Slater’s linemate Michael Walker, another senior, grabbed a hold of a turnover at the blue line and blasted a shot high and to the near post, putting Pennridge up 3-0.
At the 6:21 mark, Slater took control of a clearing attempt at the blue line and put it inside the far side post and all of a sudden, that 4-0 lead the Rams held was looking an awful lot like a mountain CB West would not be able to scale.
“When you get up on a team like that and you play defense like that, you’re going to create turnovers,” added Montagna. “Because they’re pressing and taking chances.”
While Pennridge didn’t lose a host of players to graduation in June, Montagna said one loss was significant and that was center Pat McGinley, the team captain and one of its leading scorers last year.
“We had one key loss and it was a gigantic one,” said Montagna. “Pat was the heart and soul of the team.”
McGinley led the Rams, who finished second in the Continental Conference, to the Suburban High School Hockey League (SHSHL) finals, tallying three assists in an opening 4-1 triumph over CB East and a goal and two assists in an ensuing 5-2 semifinal win over CB West.
With Slater in your lineup, all things are possible. A junior last year, he scored hat tricks in each of those playoffs after notching 38 goals and 22 assists during the regular season. While he tallied just twice in last week’s win over CB West, when he wasn’t scoring, he was creating chances for either himself or his teammates.
McGinley’s linemates from last season, Slater (two goals) and Walker (goal, assist) were a big part of the offense for Pennridge against the Bucks.
“You give them some open ice – those, two guys Slater and Walker – that’s what they’re gonna do, they’re gonna put the puck in the net,” said Montagna.
It all starts with the defense, the coach said.
“Most of our offense came from the defense we played,” stated Montagna. “Two of those goals were the direct result of turnovers that they made with us playing good defense.”
While it’s still early, the coach was displeased with five goals his team surrendered in a 5-4 loss to Neshaminy, a battle in which the Rams outshot its opponent, 49-35. Thomas Gallagher had a hat trick in the books for the Skins before the end of the second period and Neshaminy tagged Pennridge for three goals in the middle frame.
“We have not been great defensively to start this year,” said Montagna. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes – forwards, defense, transition defense, man-to-man defense, whatever it is.
“We stressed that coming in here tonight. If we’re going to do anything this year, that’s what’s gotta change.”
Pennridge was not just solid defensively even strength, its back lines canceled out eight penalties dished out to the Rams. At one point in the third period, Pennridge was forced to play two men down with Conrad Frisch going off near the eight-minute mark for holding and Evan Kehoe going off for tripping 90 seconds later.
The Rams escaped the 5-on-3 situation unscathed, though they had a little help when CB West forward Christian Young was called for interference with 6:04 left in the third period.
By the time all the players were released from the box, Pennridge was still up 4-0 and with just four minutes remaining, there was not enough time for the Bucks to catch up.
CB West finally broke through offensively when Pavel Serhiayenka took hold of a clearing pass near the blue line and put it on the top shelf for the Bucks’ lone goal of the game.
Fed by Eisslers – Michael and Nick – Frisch got the goal back for the Rams when he scored 18 seconds later and with just 45 ticks left on the clock.
With the loss, CB West falls to 1-4 overall. While the Bucks have two returning seniors in goal in Jeremy Kennard and Nick Ritz, West is still trying to find its identity after losing three key defenders to graduation including captain Luke McCleerey, Matt Clarke and Evan “Cruise Ship” Johnson.
Kennard finished the game in goal when Bucks starter Jake Cottington was injured near the end of the first period.