ANNVILLE -- With their backs against the wall, the Palmyra Cougars came out and played ice hockey like the defending champions they are.
Palmyra lit up Lower Dauphin for eight goals -- including three in a 33-second span -- to beat the Falcons 8-4 in a CPIHL Tier 1 Bears Cup elimination playoff game Wednesday night at Klick Lewis Arena.
The Cougars have one more hurdle to clear to have a chance at a second consecutive title and it’s a big one -- Palmyra will take on Hershey, the regular season champs, a week from Friday at KLA for the right to play Cumberland Valley for all the marbles on March 4. CV defeated the Trojans in the earlier game Wednesday night at KLA, 4-3, to clinch a berth in the title game.
That final hurdle will be a rematch of last season’s Bears Cup championship game, won by Palmyra 3-0.
Palmyra played perhaps its most complete game of the season when it mattered most. Gabe Page had a hat trick, while Cam Ihli and Tyler Depuy each added two goals for the winners.
“It was a good time to play our most complete team game of the season,” Palmyra head coach Warren Lewis said. “The guys played together. We had all 18 guys contributing. Freshman, sophomores, everybody. And it felt good to stay alive.”
The key sequence in Palmyra’s eliminator against rival LD Wednesday happened so quickly, the goals weren’t announced over the PA system at the rink for several minutes.
The Cougars scored three goals by three different lines in the span of 33 seconds and chased LD starting netminder Ty Dreibelbis from the game in the process.
The three-goal span also took a tight 2-1 contest 31 seconds into the second period, to 5-1 at 1:04.
“Momentum is everything in sports and when you get a little bit of a push, it’s nice to seize it and we jumped on ‘em,” Lewis said. “I guess you could say that was the turning point, for sure.”
Depuy, Page and Ihli all scored, respectively, during the span. Dreibelbis was pulled after Page’s marker, his second of the night. He was replaced by Jonathan Rapp.
“It was just to try to swing momentum,” Lower Dauphin head coach Travis Swartz said of the goalie switch. “Obviously, it didn’t work out too well for us.”
Palmyra also outshot LD 22-17 for the game.
The Falcons rallied from the shock to post the next two goals, both by Carter Schofield, to pull within 5-3 before the period expired.
But Palmyra found the back of the net three more times in the final period to relieve the suspense.
Schofield compiled a hat trick for LD in the losing effort.
“It’s a step in the right direction for us,” Swartz said of his Falcons, who bounced back this winter after a couple of subpar campaigns. “There is always work that needs to be done. We’ve gotta keep working.”