Somerset High School hockey coach Matt Cavrak is counting on his team’s depth and hot goaltending to carry the Golden Eagles in tonight’s Laurel Mountain Hockey League championship game at Pegula Ice Arena on the Penn State University campus.
Second-seeded Somerset will face No. 4 Hollidaysburg at 7 p.m. in the fourth meeting of the two teams. The Golden Eagles are 2-1 against the Golden Tigers this season.
“The thing that makes us tough, if we can stay out of the penalty box and keep it 5-on-5, we have three solid lines we can bring out there,” Cavrak said, calling his top two lines 1A and 1B. “I feel confident in lines one through three. If we can get into some type of rhythm where we can roll our three lines, we might be able to wear them down.”
The Golden Eagles (18-3-0) won a 3-2 double overtime thriller against No. 3 Richland in the semifinals while the Golden Tigers (16-5-1) stunned top-seeded Greater Johnstown, 4-3.
“It comes down to just playing simple hockey, playing your position and playing at a high level,” Cavrak said.
In their previous meetings, Hollidaysburg defeated Somerset 8-5 on Dec. 9, and the Golden Eagles posted two routs over the Tigers, 8-0 on Jan. 23 and 10-3 on Feb. 20.
“The second game we played them at their rink and beat them 8-0 with our regular squad,” Cavrak said. “That propelled us to go on a nice streak. The last time we played them in February we beat them 10-3 at home. It was a much closer game than the score indicated. It was 5-3 going into the third.”
Hollidaysburg had two of the LMHL’s top three scorers, with Brandon Ritchey posting a league-high 53 goals and 88 points.
The Golden Tigers’ Kent Brustle was third with 32 goals and 64 points. Somerset’s Jonathan Wisten held the No. 2 spot with 44 goals and 66 points.
“We played them three times this year, and we know (Ritchey) is a special player,” Cavrak said.
Somerset’s top line includes Wisten at center, with Stephen Sujansky and John Heler on the wings.
Center Frederik Gildsig is teamed with Jordan Beistel, who had 43 points, and Zach Bence.
The third line features Conrad Stoy, Peter McGinnis and Robert Drane.
“They’ve practiced hard. They’ve focused,” Cavrak said. “Based off the three practices we had and the focus I see in the boys right now, I think they’re ready to bring out their best game.”
Goaltender Samuel Sujansky has been a difference-maker. He had one huge stop after another to keep his team alive against Richland in the semifinal at Planet Ice.
Overall, the Eagles netminder had a league-best 15-2-0 mark with a 1.41 goals against average and .909 save percentage.
“Sam does a nice job as a senior back there,” Cavrak said. “He came up huge in the semifinal round against Richland. That’s nice to have behind you.”
Defenseman Stephen Yaros also “came up big,” with the game-winning goal in the final minute of the second overtime against the Rams. Yaros also had scored late in regulation to give the Eagles a one-goal lead.
“We’ve been stressing, especially in the stretch run, taking care of our own end,” Cavrak said. “That’s where your offense is going to start.”
The title game traditionally has been played at Cambria County War Memorial Arena, but with limited ice time available this month, the venue was changed to Penn State’s state-of-the-art facility.
RMG Sports will televise the game on tape-delay on March 30.
“There hasn’t been much talk (about playing at Penn State),” Cavrak said. “We’re looking at this as another game in another rink. We haven’t hyped that up as much. We’re treating it as another game. It is a beautiful facility though.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.