By SHAWN CURTIS
On a night when mostly anything to do with area schools was closed, the shooting lanes were wide open for the Westmont Hilltop Hilltoppers during Monday’s Tomahawks Cup championship game at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Westmont Hilltop used dominating puck control and a patient attack to pepper Greater Johnstown goaltender Lukas Enos and eventually skate away with a 7-2 win over the Trojans.
The PIHL Class A Hilltoppers held a 39-15 advantage in shots on goal and flexed their offensive might in spurts against the previously unbeaten Laurel Mountain Hockey League squad.
“I think that was a function of us moving the puck and moving ourselves,” Westmont Hilltop coach Art McQuillan said. “We got off to a good start. We had real good flow all night. Very unselfish and we moved the puck very well.”
Brandon Leech, who netted four goals, helped the Hilltoppers grab a 2-0 lead in the first, blasting a shot from the left point past Enos with 9:35 remaining in the period. Leech struck again with 7:41 left from just outside the high slot. Liam Moran and T.J. Smith assisted on the first marker while Austin DeGrange and Michael Lamison helped on the second tally.
A little over 2 minutes after Leech’s second goal, Stephen DeMarco muscled a puck into the net with assists from Austin Crespo and Leech.
“We needed to cover the points a little better and cover the front a little better,” Greater Johnstown coach Sean McTighe said. “They’re a good team. They move the puck fast and they move the puck well. We just need to be a little quicker in those areas defensively. It’s a good learning experience to play a team like (Westmont Hilltop).”
The Trojans broke through 7 minutes into the second on Jordan Lonsinger’s slap shot from the left point. Devin Smith and Vince Walters were credited with the assists on the power-play goal.
Lamison (6:22 remaining) and Moran (2:17) aided in the Hilltoppers’ response to the Lonsinger goal to run the lead to 5-1. Ty Rickabaugh set up Lamison’s one-timer goal with a feed across the slot while Leech assisted on Moran’s tally.
Leech, who had a hand in six of the Hilltoppers’ seven goals, netted two unassisted goals in the third, charging to the net to flick a puck past Enos with 13:41 remaining. A wristshot between the faceoff circles followed with 8:29 to go.
“A solid effort all around in all three phases in all three periods,” McQuillan said. “We took our game to the next level.”
Greater Johnstown’s Smith, who scored four goals in Sunday’s opening round, punched home the game’s last goal with 3:19 remaining. Zach Thomas and Jillian Foster tallied assists.
Enos made 32 saves while the Hilltoppers’ Sebastian Ragno stopped 13 shots.
In the consolation game, Richland took third-place honors with a 6-3 win over Bishop McCort.
“It was nice to be able to get out of the tournament with a W,” Richland coach J.J. Vasilko said. “Third place is not bad. There’s a lot of good teams in the area.”
The Rams (9-4-1) used goals from Jason Edsall, Bryce Bostian and Zach Wesner to open a 3-1 lead after a period.
Chris Miller notched the Crimson Crushers’ first period goal at the 10:34 mark, preceding the Bostian and Wesner goals.
Bostian and Wesner each struck again in the second to expand the Richland lead to 5-2 before the third period. Connor Bunn tallied the only goal for Bishop McCort (2-13) in the second.
Bishop McCort drew closer late in the third on Conner Hagins’ goal with 2:07 remaining. The Rams shut the door just over a minute later as Jeremy Patula flicked a shot into an abandoned net.
For the Crimson Crushers, any on-ice experience gained is a step toward regaining the program’s swagger.
“Since Day 1, we’ve been at a stage where we’re young,” Bishop McCort coach John Bradley said. “It didn’t matter who we played. We’re still young. We gotta learn from this and move on and get ready. We’ve got Mars, the second-ranked team in the state coming in here. It doesn’t get any easier. Everyone wants to play us, everyone wants to beat us. So we’ll go out, work hard and and find a way to get two points.”
All in all, the first-time tournament – hosted by the Johnstown Tomahawks – left a good impression on its champion coach.
“We’re very appreciative of the Tomahawks putting this tournament on for the local schools,” McQuillan said. “It showcases a lot of talent, regardless of the outcome of any one game. It is a chance for the PIHL and Laurel Mountain to go head-to-head and it’s an opportunity for a lot of kids to showcase their skill level.”
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.
By SHAWN CURTIS