Hollidaysburg scored two goals 37 seconds apart early in the third period and then held off top-seeded Greater Johnstown 4-3 in a Laurel Mountain Hockey League semifinal at Planet Ice on Wednesday.
“We went into the locker room and talked about pushing the pace,” Hollidaysburg coach Craig Fitzgerald said of his message during intermission of a tie game. “We did the same thing in our first playoff game. It was a tight game as well (an 8-3 win over Bishop Guilfoyle). We stressed the importance of going out and getting the first one (of the period) and putting the pressure on the other team.”
Milo Defay converted a power play at 3:34 of the third, and teammate Jonathan Bilek scored at 4:11. Brandon Ritchey had assists on Hollidaysburg’s final three goals.
“We were fortunate to do that and that kind of set the tone,” Fitzgerald said. “To get the second one was really nice – an insurance goal we ended up using.”
Johnstown’s Devin Smith scored at 4:42 of the third to close the gap to 4-3 and cap a spurt of three goals scored by the two teams in a 1:08 span.
Fourth-seeded Hollidaysburg advances to the LMHL championship game at 7 p.m. on March 20 at Penn State’s Pegula Arena. The Golden Tigers will face Somerset, which beat Richland.
Johnstown closed a 17-3-1 season.
The Trojans held a lengthy team meeting after the game that lasted into the start of the Somerset-Richland game. Coach Sean McTighe was unavailable for comment immediately after the first game.
“It was an all-out team effort,” Hollidaysburg’s Fitzgerald said.
The score was tied at 2-all through two periods as each team netted one goal in the first and second periods.
Hollidaysburg struck first. Hunter Shields scored on a redirected shot. Anthony Vonada had the assist.
“You try to get the momentum on your side,” Fitzgerald said of the game’s first goal. “We’ve been a team, when we get down, we really get down. So, it’s great to get that first goal.
“We skated with these guys twice and they’re a great team. They skate with a lot of speed and they really push the pace. We had to go out and try to match them.”
Greater Johnstown tied it via Nick Farrell’s goal at 12:15 of the first. Derek Mullen set up the play. The score was 1-all after one period, though Johnstown outshot Hollidaysburg 14-4.
The Trojans took a 2-1 lead 4:10 into the second. Smith won a faceoff and got the shot past Hollidaysburg goaltender Brandon Amigh (34 saves).
Johnstown had to kill off a 5-on-3 Hollidaysburg power play midway through the second, but right after the Trojans got back to even strength, the Golden Tigers’ Defay scored after a pass by Ritchey at 9:58.
Hollidaysburg had another 5-on-3 advantage late in the second period, and the Trojans successfully killed off the penalties behind the play of goalie Bo Sheriff (23 saves).
The Tigers went 1 of 5 on the man-advantage. Johns-town was 0 of 2 on the power play.
“We always felt like we had a chance,” Fitzgerald said. “We skated tight against everybody during the season. Johnstown was the only team we were not able to beat in the regular season. We looked at that as a good opportunity to make a statement.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.