GATES MILLS, Ohio — The Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 19U Tier I girls netted back-to-back goals in a 30-second span late in the third period on their way to a 5-3 victory over Culver Academy in the Floyd E. Stefanski Ice Center at Gilmour Academy.
The win gave the Pens the USA Hockey Mid-American District title as well as a spot in the 2020 Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championships in Blaine, Minnesota, April 2-6.
“[Culver Academy is] a heck of a program,” said Pens coach Chris “Sluggo” Stern. “Anytime you beat a team with the history Culver has, you are happy for your team. They are a tremendous program and well coached.”
Tied at two after two periods in a fast paced and evenly matched game throughout, Culver Academy took a 3-2 lead with 4:23 on the third period clock after the puck bounced off the glove of Pens goaltender Brooke Marella and into the back of the net.
The Pens were not rattled with a one goal deficit late in the contest.
“The attitude among the girls was, that goal was not going to beat us,” Stern said. “We didn’t know if we were going to win, but we’re not going to let that goal beat us because it was so fluky. More than one girl on the bench said we were not going to let that be the goal that beats us.”
Marella was undeterred by the goal and had a high level of support from her teammates and confidence in their ability to respond to Culver’s go-ahead goal stating, “They [teammates] told me don’t worry about it, you’re keeping us in the game. I wasn’t worried about it. We had four minutes left and anything can happen. Anything did happen and we got two goals.”
Hannah Lindey tallied the game-tying goal with 3:37 remaining in the third period — on her way to a hat trick in the contest — and Haley Steffey deflected linemate Mackenzie King’s attempt into the Culver net a scant 30 seconds later.
“I was in front of the net and getting in front of the net is a big part of scoring goals,” said Steffey. “… It was pretty cool, and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
Like many of her teammates, Steffey wasn’t overly concerned when Culver took the lead in the third period, stating, “The mindset was that this could be our last game of the season and we didn’t want this to be our last game. We got on the bench and said we had to do something about it.”
Lindey opened the game’s scoring in the first period and Culver’s Maggie Groszek responded in the opening frame. Much like the first period, the Pens tallied the initial goal of the second period and Culver would later add a goal to match the effort.
Steffey accounted for the Pens middle period goal, while Zoe Lohrei scored Culver’s goal with only 37 seconds remaining in the period. Culver had a flurry of chances in the little time remaining after Lohrie’s goal yet Marella was able to calm the storm.
Again, the overall confident approach of the Pens prevailed heading into the third period.
“We made a mistake and they made a play and we got a little panicky,” said Stern. “Our goalie bailed us out.”
A key component throughout the Pittsburgh victory was an impressive display of team defense.
Early in the first period, Corine Trejchel swiped a puck away from near the goal line that had trickled past Marella, and added to the effort throughout the game with several blocked shots.
“I was like, ‘Oh no!’ but Corine had my back,” Marella said. “The team had my back and that made me really confident.”
Stern explained his team’s commitment to defense and blocking shots saying, “[Blocking shots] is probably the biggest reason for improvement throughout the year. The kids dedicating themselves to blocking shots, both mentally and physically because you know you’re going to get whacked.
“Everybody knows that’s an expectation they will do for each other. That, as much as anything, increases our level of play. The players celebrate and honor shot blocking and those little things as much as they do the fancy things.”
With that level of trust and accepted expectations, the Pens exhibit a high level of team unity to which Stern credited to challenges the team has faced during the season.
“It has really brought out the character of this group,” he said. “It shows in our team defense and camaraderie. That’s why we didn’t panic when were down. I can’t say enough about these girls.”
Lindey scored the Pens’ final goal with 22 seconds remaining in the game.
Marella stopped 21 of 24 shots she faced against Culver and Shelby Noelscher earned 22 saves on 23 shots against Gilmour in round robin play.
Steffey, King and Serena Slusarcyk each accumulated four points in the round robin, with every one of them credited with two goals and two assists.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.