A calamitous five-minute major penalty nearly cost the Meadville hockey team the game.
And, oh yeah, that penalty was against the Bulldogs’ opponent.
Fortunately for Meadville, the team had a whole period to make up for that nearly disastrous loss-of-power play. And the Bulldogs used it to their advantage, scoring two goals in the third to pull out a 4-3 victory over the visiting Lions during an Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League Class AA clash at the DeArment Ice Arena on Monday.
That win improves Meadville’s record to 10-12-1-1 on the season, and 4-6-0-1 in the PIHL Class AA. South Fayette dropped to 3-9-0-0 in league play.
As for last night’s action, it started out well enough. The Bulldogs spent most of the first period peppering South Fayette goaltender Brandon Timmons with 16 shots while letting up just six of their own.
Yet Timmons, while not having to rely on many miracles, managed to keep all 16 of the Bulldogs’ tries out of the net.
Jordan McCurdy did likewise for Meadville, and the period ended in a scoreless tie.
Then came the second period. And for whatever reason, that’s been a bad sign for Meadville this year.
“We always play a bad second period,” said Meadville’s Ryan Scheppelmann, who was in his first game back after missing the last month with a broken hand. “We’re known for it.”
Sure enough, around 6:30 into the frame, South Fayette’s Keegan Szczerba received an outlet pass from teammate Aidan McConnell and took off on a breakaway, finishing it into the top left corner of the goal to give the Lions a 1-0 lead.
However, Meadville then appeared to turn its second-period luck around, getting that goal right back and then adding a second to take the lead.
Right from the face-off after Szczerba’s goal, the puck found it’s way from Jonathan English to Trevor Kessler to Cohl Weber low in the slot. Weber twirled around on it like one of those plastic bubble hockey players, slipping it through Timmons’ five hole.
Thirteen seconds had passed since South Fayette took the lead and Meadville tied it.
It took a little more than a minute for the Bulldogs to take a lead of their own. Andrew Derlink was in a similar spot on the ice as Weber. And he showed off a similar spin move, charging it past Timmons to make it 2-1 Meadville. Parker Higham had the assist.
Later, with under six minutes to go in the period, South Fayette’s Dylan Walsh was sent off the ice for a five-minute major and a game misconduct for an attempt-to-injure penalty.
As it turned out, Walsh’s absence hurt Meadville way more than it did South Fayette.
Within the first minute, South Fayette had two near breakaways. On the first, the Lions’ skater lost the puck going over the blue line. On the second, the puck got a little too far ahead of the skater, giving McCurdy time to come out of the net and shoo it away.
“It was awful,” said Scheppelmann. “We just played so selfish on (the power play). We thought we had it in the bag. And everybody tried to do it themselves.”
The third breakaway, however, went all the way. The Lions’ Ethan Szymanski received a pass in the neutral zone and sped behind the Bulldogs’ defense, beating McCurdy one-on-one to tie the game at 2-2.
“It’s funny,” said Plunkett, “you get a five-minute penalty, and I can’t tell you how many times over the years the team that has the man advantage, I think they relax, they think they’ve got it made. The other team picks up their intensity. And all the momentum is taken away from the team that has the man
“And you could see it coming.”
As the five minute penalty went on, Meadville made things even easier on South Fayette, picking up back-to-back penalties to give the Lions’s a 4-3 man advantage.
Meadville killed one of those penalties, only to get hit with another for too many men on the ice.
South Fayette finally got their guy out of the box and had a 5-on-3. The Lions used it to take a 3-2 lead on a goal by Alex Keller.
“The break came at a good time,” said Plunkett.
The Bulldogs came out for the third with a new sense of urgency. And it quickly paid dividends, as just three minutes in Matthew English let loose a shot from the high slot that glanced off some part of Cody Lewis’ body (”He said it was his head,” said Bulldogs assistant coach Kyle Waite) and into the Lions’ goal, tying the game.
Then, midway through the period, Meadville had itself a power play. One of South Fayette’s defenders had his eyes down, trying to corral the puck in front of his goal. He didn’t spot Scheppelmann charging at him.
Schepplemann severed the puck away from him and skated in on Timmons. Timmons stopped the first attempt, but the rebound went right back to Schepplemann. And he buried that one.
“We knew what we had to do,” said Scheppelmann. “We had to go out in that third period and play exactly like we did in the first, the exact same style.”
That would end up being the game winner, as Meadville later killed off a late penalty, during which South Fayette pulled its goalie to get a 6-on-4 advantage for more than a minute.
McCurdy stopped several chances during that stretch to finish the game with 30 saves.