Griffin Leads Tigers Past Central Catholic
By Joe Sager
WARRENDALE – It was the first game of the regular season.
But, it looked like the last one of the postseason.
Joe Griffin scored a pair of late goals to lift North Allegheny to a 3-1 win over Central Catholic at BladeRunners on Tuesday. It was both teams’ PIHL Class AAA regular-season opener.
“Before Halloween, you don’t expect to see games like that too often. Both teams had speed; there were some big hits out there and both teams had good composition,” Central Catholic coach Bill Connelly said. “Coach Black does a good job with that team. They play a great system and they all play together. We knew we needed to bring a similar game in order to skate with them. I think we were able to do that. Toward the end, we had one breakdown and good teams capitalize on that. So, you have to tip your cap to NA.
“If we bring that kind of effort every night, we’ll be in good shape.”
The victory let the Tigers (1-0) know that the Vikings (0-1) and everyone else will be coming after them, especially with their unbeaten run to the St. Margaret Foundation Fall Face-Off tournament championship two weeks ago.
“I think it’s like any team coming off winning a tournament and going undefeated, we came in a little too cocky, not really knowing what to expect,” Griffin said. “It was one of those things that we have to learn – we can’t take any team lightly. They came out hard and they are a solid team. They’re definitely one of the most solid teams we’ve seen so far. It was good for us to get the win here.
“I have no doubt that we have a target on our backs right now after the St. Margaret’s tournament,” he continued. “I don’t think we’re really used to that; we’re used to being the underdogs trying to work up to the top. It’ll be different, but I think it’ll be good for us to be where we are.”
North Allegheny struck first 4:35 into the opening period. Shane Snyder’s bad-angle shot deflected off a Vikings defender and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Central Catholic turned up its defense after that and pulled even 9:01 into the second on Alex Houser’s tally in front of the goal.
The game remained knotted until late in the third when the Tigers broke loose for a 3-on-2 rush. Connor Cash slid a pass to Griffin on the back post and he slammed it in for the 2-1 lead with 3:47 to play.
Griffin, who had a hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Canon-McMillan in the tournament title game two weeks ago, added an empty-net goal with 19 seconds remaining to ice the win.
“Again, it’s me being in the right place and my teammates getting me the puck,” he said. “They broke out and I didn’t do anything. They went into the zone and I didn’t do anything. I got the puck and scored. Matt Fantaski and Connor Cash are the guys behind the scenes who get things done.”
Bradford Thornburgh stopped 23 shots to earn the win.
“Both teams were hitting really hard. It was a battle for every puck. We just won more battles today and that was the big thing,” he said. “We didn’t have a great start. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t come out fast. They were on us all game. It was just a battle. We wanted to win every battle to the puck. That’s big. If you can win every battle, you’re not going to lose the game.”
The Tigers played strong defense in front of their junior goaltender even without the services of top blueliner Harry Kramer, who remains sidelined with a broken collarbone.
“Harry is probably out until the beginning of December. That’s something we’re going to be cautious with. We’re going to make sure he’s fully recovered and then give him a couple of weeks to get into shape. We’re not in a hurry to push him to come back. We want to make sure he’s 100 percent,” North Allegheny coach Jim Black said. “Some guys played well back there. Will Rahenkamp is playing really well. Christian Louria, for a freshman, has stepped up and adapted well. With having Harry out, the guys have really stepped out and the guys who have had the opportunity to play have played well.
“A lot of these guys on both teams know each other. They grew up playing amateur hockey together. I was really impressed with Central. They did a good job. They played very well defensively,” he continued. “When you have Neil Carleton, Dylan Junker and Kellen Carleton out there – and Neil could play half the game if he wanted to – those guys are going to be tough to beat. Those are just guys you don’t get around. We got a couple bounces on our end for goals and Bradford played well. He is seeing the puck well. I am satisfied with the win, but it’s early and we have a lot of work to do."
Both teams return to action Thursday as NA visits Mt. Lebanon, while Central Catholic takes on Hempfield.
PHOTO CAPTION: Joe Griffin of North Allegheny, File photo