The Laurel Mountain Hockey League Championship will pair two city rivals in a rematch of the 2021 title contest and the latest in a historic series that stretches back three decades.
Top seed Westmont Hilltop (18-3) and third seed, defending champion Bishop McCort Catholic (18-4) play at 8 p.m. Thursday at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial. The Ann Harris Smith Cup will be at stake.
“Any time you play Westmont they’re a great team. They have great coaching. They have great kids,” Bishop McCort’s coach John Bradley said. “I live in Westmont. Many of these children, I know their families. They finished first overall in a very tough league this year. They have some of the best youngsters in the league.
Westmont Hilltop has scored 23 goals in two LMHL playoff wins this season.
Bishop McCort Catholic, behind solid defense and stellar goaltending from Nikita Volski, has allowed just three total goals in two playoff wins.
“They’re two elite teams in the area,” said Westmont Hilltop coach Kris Carlson, a former Crimson Crushers player on four PIHL State Championship-winning teams in the 1990s. first place or the championship. Both teams want to be on top.
“It’s a dogfight every time we play. I expect no less this time. Our boys are going to be ready to go and pumped, and I’m sure they are too.
In his first season in the LMHL, Bishop McCort Catholic won the 2021 Ann Harris Smith Cup in a narrow 3-2 win over Westmont in the title game at 1st Summit Arena. The Hilltoppers’ only three losses have all come against Bishop McCort.
This season, the Hilltoppers beat the Crimson Crushers 7-4 on Dec. 14 and Westmont beat Bishop McCort 2-1 on Jan. 20.
“We’re definitely going to expect a tough game,” Carlson said. “They are going to shoot us. We beat them in the previous two.
Bradley said the championship game is important for a Bishop McCort program that has seen tragedy in recent weeks, but he thinks the Crimson Crushers have a different perspective than they did just months ago.
“Our team has probably been through more than anyone else in a season. Just dealing with things that happen in life. Losing a teammate,” Bradley said of player Maverick Baker, who died in February.
“Then also having some of our players’ relatives who are involved in a world war,” Bradley said of the Russia, Ukraine and Belarus international players. “Just the uncertainty of everything, things that a lot of people just don’t experience in their lives.
“We look forward to the opportunity to play another game of hockey and relieve a lot of people’s minds of a lot of things that a lot of people are dealing with.”
In Tuesday’s semifinal, Bishop McCort beat State College 4-1 as Volski made 33 saves and the Crimson Crushers received goals from Matt Ribblett, Jack Esch and a pair of Brennan Karalfa.
“They have two strong lines that can handle the puck and skate with the puck,” Carlson said. “You have to defend well against them, limit their opportunities.
The Hilltoppers coach was impressed with Volski’s efforts.
“We have to put bodies in front of him, limit his vision and try to get the puck to the net,” Carlson said. “Don’t make it easy for him.”
Westmont Hilltop beat fourth-seeded Hollidaysburg 7-5 as Kobe Rickabaugh scored two goals and Payton Sell, Colin Gorman, Logan Glessner, Alex Crespo and Kyle Replogle each scored one. Goaltender Luke Snider made 12 saves.
“We have a ton of respect for Westmont,” Bradley said. “We’re just happy to get going again and maybe take the pressure off the world a bit. For one hour and 45 minutes, bring peace to society.
Westmont has played without LMHL leading scorer Aiden Rice and goaltender Ian Amaranto in the previous two playoff games due to health issues, Carlson said.
“It’s a game time decision,” Carlson said when asked if either player could return to the lineup on Thursday.
Mike Mastovich is a sports journalist and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.