By Pete Chiodo
When you schedule a bunch of bulls for your tournament, chances are you’re going to get jabbed by a few horns.
So went the 18th annual Meadville Bulldog Hockey Invitational for the host team this weekend.
The Bulldogs went 0-3 after losing a pair of games on Saturday. In an early morning matchup, St. Edward (Ohio) defeated Meadville 7-1. Later in the afternoon, the Bulldogs fell to Upper St. Clair 5-2.
“We know what we’re getting into when we schedule,” said Meadville head coach Jamie Plunkett. “When we first started this tournament 18 years ago the goal was to bring in the best competition we can. And in the history of the tournament there were years where we were getting to Sunday and even into the championship game. We’ve only won once. But just trying to get to Sunday right now has been a big challenge.”
The Bulldogs can now only be spectators as the tournament wraps up today. St. Edward and Sylvania Northview will face off in a semifinal game at 8 a.m. The second semifinal will include St. Ignatius and Upper St. Clair at 10. The winner of the two semifinal games will battle for the tournament crown at 3 p.m.
“My feeling is I’m going to keep bringing the teams in,” said Plunkett. “I’m not going to dumb it down. We’ve just got to keep trying.”
Meadville had moments in both of yesterday’s games where it looked like things were going the Bulldogs way. But they just couldn’t sustain that forward progress.
For example, in the morning game Meadville and St. Edward were tied 1-1 in the first after Josh Orr scored the equalizer with 1:13 remaining.
However, less then a minute later, the Eagles squashed the Bulldogs momentum by scoring a goal just before the period ended.
They went on to add a goal in the second to make it 3-1. St. Edward then struck for four goals in the third period.
Curtis Szelesta had two goals. Trevor Lewandowski had back-to-back power play goals in the third. Todd Price, Will Armbruster and Andrew Zirneskie also scored for the Eagles.
“It just seems like you get a little momentum and it’s gone,” said Plunkett. “For whatever reason, we’ll play hard and compete and then all of the sudden it just stops. Somewhere, somehow we’re going to have to figure that out. Because against good teams you just can’t do that.”
In the afternoon game against Upper St. Clair, the Panthers got on top early, getting goals from Alex Gialames and Matt Boyd in the first period.
Before the period ended, however, Meadville made it a 2-1 game when, on a power play, Bryan Ray redirected an Owen Miller slapshot from the blue line into the Panthers’ goal.
That’s where the score would remain until midway through the second period when Jacob Puccetti scored for Upper St. Clair. Then Austin Cassidy made it 4-1 with a minute remaining in the second.
Early in the third, Meadville cut that lead to 4-2 when Miller backhanded a shot past USC goalie Adam Seeton.
Yet that was as close as Meadville would come. The ’Dogs pulled goalie Austin Guanzon with a minute or so to go, leaving the door open for Sean Stevenson’s empty net goal with 59 seconds left.
“(Against Upper St. Clair) we waited until the latter part of the game to start being a physical team,” said Plunkett. “We’re not going to overwhelm teams offensively. I think for us to have a chance to be successful we’ve got to play a blue-collar, hard-hat kind of style. That means we’ve got to grind away, finish our checks. Either our guys can’t do it or won’t do it. But it’s been a part of the game forever where one of the ways you counteract a team that may be more skilled than you is to physically impose your will on them.
“And I’m not talking about being dirty. I’m talking about physically separating your opponent from the puck and making them want to get rid of the puck sooner than they would otherwise want to. But I don’t know if our team sees itself as a finesse team. Because we’re anything but. We scored three goals in three games here. The numbers don’t support that.”