WARMINSTER — It was the North Penn ice hockey team's first trip back to Warwick Arena to face Central Bucks South since last season. It was then when the Titans completed a spirited series sweep in the SHSHL AA championship. But as shown Thursday night, it does not take a title shot to bring the best out of both sides.
In the first regular season meeting between the two contending clubs, the Knights netted the first goal and the Continental Conference teams traded scores all evening. As expected, the score was square 2-2 heading into the final period and much like last season championship series, the Titans found a way to pull out the win.
"South is a physical team that is going to get up in your face and grind it out,' Knights coach Kevin Vaitis said. "We are a finesse team with a lot of skill and a lot of speed. We need to use that to our advantage and we kind of got away from it.'
The 5-3 win was propelled by two third period goals by the Titans. Every time the Knights (11-4-1, 9-3-1) attempted to take control, the defending champs came storming back down the ice for an equalizer. The Titans' (13-3-1, 11-2-1) Brenden Clements connected for his seventh goal of the season with four minutes remaining to seal the victory. Jake Bauer's second goal of the night put the cherry on top with an empty-netter.
"We had the chance to get the puck deep and we turned it over,' Vaitis said of Clement's game winner. "The rule in hockey is you cannot turn the puck over six feet on either side of the blue line and we kind of did that, and Clements put a great shot in the top corner.'
The Knights took the lead with under nine minutes to play in regulation on a Nick Capasso connection. However the Titans wasted little time to answer back as Bauer brought score even again. The Knights also had goals scored by Jake Heckenberger and Ryan Nowicki in the first period.
"We had a real good first period,' Vaitis said. "In the second period they took it to us and swung the momentum into their favor.'
The Titans Mike Pilla scored the lone goal in the second period as the Knights' offense went missing for a period and NP was outshot 16 to 4 in the middle stanza. There was 30 minutes of ice time between Nowicki and Capasso's goals. In the midst of the cold attack, the Titans expanded their shots on goal margin to double-digits. Luckily Knights' goalie Jake Snyder stopped 23 of the first 25 shots he saw and finished with 36 saves on the night.
"Jake was phenomenal tonight,' Vaitis said. "He stood on his head and had a bunch of great saves. We have had great goaltending all year long.'
Last year Snyder did not suit up for the program, but the sophomore has solidified the Knights in net when coming into the season they did not know who exactly would replace two senior goalies. Snyder's travel hockey experience showed up for the show down with the Titans.
"Jake is a sophomore, it is his first year, and he has been outstanding,' Vaitis said. "His brother has been playing, and Jake came out this year. He has really stepped it up.'
Snyder could only stand on his head for so long as the Titans took control of the conference for now. Another spirited regular season conference awaits these clubs in two weeks at Hatfield Ice. And they are bound to see each other in the postseason again in what has become one of the top SHSHL rivalries in the area.
"We are looking forward to playing them again in two weeks,' Vaitis said. "We get back to work next week and get it going here.'
Follow Andrew Marcus on Twitter @amarcus515.