Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
CPIHL TIER 2 CHAMPIONSHIP
Township shows champions' mettle Stager hat trick sparks victory over PM Township shows champions' mettle BY KEVIN FREEMAN, Sports Writer
HERSHEY -- Manheim Township junior center Erik Stager and his coach, Kevin Dean, were talking prior to Friday night's hockey game.
Stager asked Dean how many goals he thought he could get out of the hockey stick he was holding.
"That's a hat trick stick, there,'' Dean remembered telling Stager.
As it turned out, Dean's lighthearted premonition came true.
Stager scored a natural hat trick --three straight goals -- to lead Township to a 4-0 victory in the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League Tier 2 championship game Friday night at the Hersheypark Arena.
While Stager took care of much of the offense, Blue Streaks goalie Brandon Davis posted the shutout, making 28 saves.
The Viola Cup victory was the second for Township, the first coming in the 2004-05 season.
The game, however, was marred by an abundance of penalties. Officials Rob Schelhorn and Brandon Forsburg called an astounding 58 penalties totaling 209 minutes. Five-on-five hockey was a rare occurrence during the second and third periods.
"I thought it was a little out of control,'' said league president Dan Keich. "I think the referees did the best job they could. It was unfortunate that things got a little out of hand on both sides.''
Keich was asked if such a game, which, along with the other two tiers' title games is supposed to be a showcase for the league, reflected poorly on the league.
"Absolutely,'' he said. "But it's a heated rivalry and we expected a heated game. But I don't think we expected quite what we got.''
Penn Manor had the better of the scoring chances in the first period, outshooting Township 13-3, but the Blue Streaks emerged from the period with a 1-0 lead, thanks to a goal by defenseman Noah Bradley.
Bradley picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, got past a couple of defenders and rang the puck off the crossbar and into the net.
"I just made a few moves and buried it,'' said Bradley.
The constant march to the penalty box started shortly after the second period began. Crosschecking, roughing, slashing and many unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called, setting up the probability that the game would be decided by special teams.
And that was true, with all of Stager's goals coming on the power play.
At one point in the second period, each team had six players in the penalty box. When that occurred, the Comets had one player on the bench.
"There's a lot of emotion,'' said Stager, when asked about all the penalties. "Both teams have strong feelings toward one another.''
Stager scored the first of his goals with 5:19 to play in the second period, giving Township a 2-0 lead. He converted a pass from Steven Burnett, who found Stager from behind the Penn Manor net.
"That goal gave us all the momentum,'' Stager said.
Stager picked up his second with 2:37 to go in the second. He got a stretch pass from Alex Busque and scored on the breakaway to make it 3-0.
Stager completed the hat trick just 15 seconds later, knocking a rebound from off the post past Penn Manor goalie Owen Finefrock.
"I got some good feeds from my teammates,'' Stager said, "and I was somehow able to score three goals.''
Davis was able to navigate what became a choppy game due to the penalties flawlessly. He played his best game in Township's most important game.
"Everything clicked,'' he said. "I just did everything I could to stop the puck.''
The third period was scoreless but the penalties continued, four of which were called for fighting.
"Some of the penalties should have been called and some should not have been called,'' said Penn Manor coach Garth Bolin. "We didn't play as much hockey as we wanted to. Things snowballed. Our guys were getting tired and frustrated.''
Dean said the penalty-filled game was the product of passion.
"It's a championship game and you have two teams that really want it and want it badly,'' he said. "Sometimes, that stuff builds up. First there are a couple of penalties and next thing you know there are 20 on each side. I thought the refs did a really good job of calling absolutely everything, particularly after the two fights.''
Note: Hershey defeated Dallastown 2-0 in the Tier 1 title game.