Class AAA State hockey championship

April 17, 1986

Upper St. Clair junior center Phil Shaffalo said his team’s 4-2 loss to Berwyn Conestoga in Saturday’s Class AAA state title hockey game at Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center was just a matter of numbers. “If we could have gone with three lines like Conestoga did, we would have been much more potent,” Shaffalo said. “There’s a big difference between the 45-second rest you get with two lines and the minute-and-a- half rest you get with three. All our players were super we just needed three more of them.” One numbers problem led to another for USC namely the aforementioned 4-2 score. The Panthers, who dominated Western Pennsylvania hockey this season and were arguably one of the area’s best teams in several years, were simply beaten by a better team. Shaffalo’s brother Pete and Craig Cowan scored for USC (23-3) while game Most Valuable Player Chris Cummings, Don MacEwan, Geordie Shaw and Bill Railton scored for two time state champion Conestoga (30-0). The margin of victory matched undefeated Conestoga’s closest game of the season. Not that the game was that close. Conestoga’s three-line system systematically wore out the Panthers, especially USC’s top line of the Shaffalos and Cowan
Conestoga took a 3-1 lead into the third period and USC could mount only token pressure after that. Rail- ton made it 4-1 with his goal with 3:41 left, and Cowan closed the margin to 4-2 with a too-little, too- late goal with 1:43 left. “We really don’t have any superstars we depend on,” Conestoga Coach Taylor Railton said. “We have one good line with Cummings, [David) Smink and my son Bill, and we tried to match that line against the Shaffalo line. But for the most part we used three lines, which helped. They were definitely tired in the third period.” Railton coached USC for two seasons in the mid-1970s. One of his players during those seasons was current USC Coach Dave Hornack, who was surprised by the advantage in stamina Conestoga enjoyed. “I was surprised we tired,” Hornack said.” Conestoga drove in Saturday before the game and I thought they wouldn’t have their legs in the third. Well, they did, and they just kept coming at us.” Hornack also credited Conestoga’s advanced offense with the victory. Conestoga looped its wings toward the center of the rink with the centerman covering the looping wing’s position, producing constant motion instead of the usual stop – start style utilized by most high school teams. “If you can (loop), it’s a better system.” Hornack said. “Hockey is a game of constant movement. I never thought a high school team could use a system like that so successfully. but they had the guys to use it.” Another Conestoga tactic that befuddled USC was decoying players in front of the Panthers’ net to free other players for shots. Conestoga got two rebound goals and an easy chip-in from a give-and-go around the USC net.
“We’d pick up one guy, and they’d slide another guy behind him for the shot,” Hornack said. “They did a lot of complicated stuff. I can’t even begin to imagine what they must have done to weaker teams.”
Distinguishing themselves among the USC ranks were senior goalie Dave Pennell, who made 22 saves, including 13 during a first-period Conestoga flurry, and the line of Shaffalo-Shaffalo-Cowan, which pro- duced both goals despite failing legs. “They were easily the best team we played all season,” Phil Shaffalo said. “The teams we played this year just weren’t good enough to play like Conestoga did. They had speed, ability and depth to beat us.” Especially the depth, as he found out. “I know I didn’t have any legs in the third period,” Phil continued. “It was starting to show on all of us. We were reaching for the puck instead of giving that extra step. There were some rebounds and passes we just couldn’t get to. We had to go full speed the whole game.” USC feels it has nothing to be ashamed of, although the Panthers were disappointed to let a Philadelphia-area team take the Class AAA state title for the fifth time since the East-West series was renewed in 1981. The Panthers won the South Hills Class AAA title this season and overwhelmed three Western opponents by a combined 32-2 margin in three games en route to the show- down with Conestoga. USC returns both Shaffalos as well as several other top players next season.
“We had a good season,” Phil Shaffalo said. “I’m just not satisfied with the final game. We didn’t play bad, we just didn’t play as well as we could have or should have in that big of a game.” Said Railton. “USC was absolutely the best team we played all year. They have a nice club. They depend a lot on one line, but the Shaffalos and Cowan are all good players. They just wore out.”

CREDIT: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Mark Madden