Baldwin inline hockey team claims championship
They were down twice, but not out.
Baldwin’s varsity inline hockey team rallied twice in the PIRHL H2 finals against rival Bethel Park before nailing down the league title with a 4-3 victory in Game 3.
And it was a hat trick by Andrew Golvash that propelled the Highlanders to the first league championship in school history.
“I could not be more proud of this group of young men,” Baldwin coach Corey Denson said. “They have been a joy to coach and deserve all of the credit for obtaining the goal we set out to achieve back in September. Each and every guy contributed to this championship, and I just wanted to say thank you for the most memorable season of my coaching career.”
The roster consisted of 10 players, including seven seniors: Jack O’Brien, Anthony DiLucia, Scott Borman, Joey Starr, Marc Cardillo, Gary Lowman and goaltender Noah Kerr.
O’Brien served as team captain. DiLucia and Borman were alternates.
“I think we played really well throughout the season,” O’Brien said. “It was one of the best (seasons) I’ve had in my career, and I can credit that to our coach, Corey Denson. He was able to get us to play at our very best all year-round with the way he ran the team.
“We had a great group of guys and got hot at the right times. We always knew we had potential to make a deep run into the playoffs. One thing that really kept us grounded was taking it one game at a time. We focused on the task at hand rather than overlooking to the championship or future rounds.”
O’Brien, who has a 3.5 GPA, has been playing inline hockey for about a decade and also has competed in lacrosse and CYO basketball. He is an aspiring sports journalist and plans to major in communications at Robert Morris.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play with the same core group of guys since I was about 12, and the way we’ve bonded and built chemistry over the years is a big reason why we work so well together,” O’Brien said. “I want to thank them for an incredible playing experience from the time I started until now. We’d been chasing a championship our entire high school careers, and to finally win it with these guys was such a blessing. I wouldn’t be anywhere near the player I am without them.”
Golvash and Nate Hobson were the only juniors. Freshman Steven Winovich rounded out the roster.
“The season as a whole was a special one, both for myself and for my players,” said Denson, who was assisted by Rob O’Brien, Jack’s dad. “I’ve had the pleasure of coaching the majority of these (seniors) for three or four years, and we’ve come up short in previous seasons, often in heartbreaking fashion, so it was especially sweet to have them go out on top.”
Baldwin inline fielded two high school teams this year and competed in the H2 and H4 divisions.
“Roller hockey teams generally carry smaller rosters,” Denson said. “The games are played four-on-four and are not as physically demanding as ice hockey since it is a noncontact sport.
“The league breaks its high school level into tiers to keep it competitive, so there is V1 (the highest level), H2, H3, H4 and H5. Our team competed in the H2 tier this year and was one of 10 teams placed there.”
The Highlanders ended the regular season with a 14-2-1 record and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
“While we pretty much went wire-to-wire in first place, the season wasn’t without its challenges,” Denson said. “We lost a couple players from the team early on and dealt with some long-term injuries, as well. There were games where we played with only five skaters, but the guys always rose to whatever challenge was in front of them.”
The PIHRL playoffs consisted of three rounds. Baldwin opened with a 4-1 victory against defensive-minded Penn-Trafford squad.
“They were a much tougher opponent than the score indicates,” Denson said.
The Highlanders advanced to the championship series by defeating Pine-Richland by scores of 3-2 and 4-1 in the semifinals.
After losing by a five-goal margin in Game 1 of the championship round, Baldwin had a week to refocus and make strategy changes before Game 2.
“We definitely did not bring our A-game, and it showed both in effort and result,” Denson said. “Game 2 was as dramatic as it could get.”
The Highlanders won the second game 4-3 in overtime as Cardillo netted the winner on a power play. Game 3 was the following day.
Bethel Park took an early 1-0 lead in the championship game before Golvash (three goals) and DiLucia propelled the Highlanders to a 4-1 advantage in the third period.
“Bethel Park made a strong push late,” Denson said. “But with no momentum on our side and with us back on our heels, (we) were able to shut down Bethel’s top players, and Knerr made several clutch saves as time ticked down.”
Not only was the season memorable for the Highlanders, their pregame preparations proved noteworthy, as well.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t give some credit for our championship run to Stir Fry,” said Denson. “I’ve never seen a song (‘Migos’) get a group of players so locked in and ready to go, but this one worked every time.
“The one time we didn’t play it pregame was the only time we lost in the postseason.”
Note: Baldwin Inline Hockey will have team evaluations at the end of June for players in grades 2-12. For questions or more information, contact Michele Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.