ANNVILLE - At even strength, early on, Central Dauphin was every bit Palmyra’s equal in Monday night’s CPIHL Tier 1 Bears Cup opener for both clubs.
Special teams was entirely another matter. And it didn’t matter which team was a man down.
Showing off the skill that won them 17 games in 18 starts this winter and with those, the Tier 1 regular season crown, the Cougars scored a pair of powerplay and shorthanded goals when the game was still tight to power to an eventual 9-3 victory over CD at Klick Lewis Arena.
Palmyra, the top seed in the Bears Cup bracket, will face Cedar Crest – 3-2 winners over Hershey on Friday night – on Wednesday back at KLA for a berth in the championship game. CD will take on the Trojans the same night in an elimination game.
The Cougars have never the Bears Cup, but showed why they have to be considered favorites to reach the March 5 championship game at Hersheypark Arena with a sublime middle-period effort that knocked the Rams for a loop.
“With us getting the four – the two power play goals and the two shorties – that helped tremendously,” Palmyra head coach Matt Yingst said. “But we also gave up (a) power play goal. So if we can be positive in the special teams battle, amen.”
Carrying a 2-0 lead into the second period, the Cougars were skating shorthanded when Brendon Daly took a simple clearing flip of the puck in the neutral zone and fired down the left wing nearly uncontested to beat CD goalie Dustin Waleff and make it a 3-0 game 3:12 into the stanza.
Gavin Yingling responded for the Rams to make it 3-1 three minutes later at even strength. But Palmyra tagged its second shorthanded marker in under six minutes just moments later, when, with all five CD players pinching on a power play, Tyler Depuy corralled another backhanded clearing flip in neutral zone ice and barreled in on Waleff to make it 4-1.
Derrick Ciesielka added a power play goal with 59 ticks left in the second to extend Palmyra’s lead to 5-2 and counteract Deryk Zerby’s power play goal for CD four minutes earlier. A Cameron Ihli goal, a man up late in the opening period, opened Palmyra’s specialty teams account.
“I thought after the first eight to 10 minutes of the game, we started to at least utilize each other,” Yingst said. “I didn’t think we were playing selfish whatsoever and it was nice to see. When we move the puck, I think we are a very difficult team to play against.”
The Rams exerted spurts of pressure of the Cougars in the first period and led the shots on goal department for a long while. But CD could not match Palmyra’s sniping ability nor its superior positional play Monday night.
“We let too many shorthanded goals in,” CD coach Mac Mcclurg said. “We had an opportunity to make a difference, get power play time in, but gave the chances to them.
“We’ve been able to play with every team in this league this season. It’s been a fun ride this season, and we’re hoping to extend it just a little longer.”
Palmyra blew it open in the third period, with four more goals. Ihli’s second of the night set the running clock in motion with 7:21 left, a goal that handed the contest its final margin.
Ihli finished with two goals and two assists for four points to lead all scorers. Zach Yingst added a pair of goals and an assist; Jake Herman and Depuy each scratched 1-2-3 scorelines into the book, while Daley potted a pair. Yingling, Zerby and Gordon Lauffer rounded out CD’s score sheet.