Manheim Township CPIHL playoffs 2020

Manheim Township players line up for the national anthem prior to their Bears Division playoff game at Twin Ponds.

HARRISBURG — Through the first 15 minutes of the first period Wednesday at Twin Ponds, Manheim Township and Lower Dauphin traded shots and chances and one goal apiece with the season on the line in the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League's Bears Division play-in game.

But in the period's final minute, Noah Leach popped a puck loose in the neutral zone. Cole McCulley scooped it up to spring a rush and flicked a pass over to Leach, whose shot banged in off the underside of the crossbar. The goal gave the Falcons a 2-1 lead and the momentum that lifted them to a 9-2 victory.

Lower Dauphin, the No. 4 seed, advances to face top-seeded Palmyra in a game scheduled for 8:15 Friday at Klick Lewis Arena, the first game of the double-elimination portion of the Bears Division playoffs that culminates with a Feb. 28 Bears Cup final at Hersheypark Arena.

"I think you're going to see some hard-nosed hockey," Lower Dauphin coach Travis Swartz said, " probably some tight hockey, maybe even some boring hockey ... Prime-time opportunities are going to be important to capitalize on."

The Lower Dauphin duo of Leach and McCulley capitalized on their opportunities to lead the Falcons (13-6-0-0). Leach scored 1:44 into the second period, to stretch the Lower Dauphin lead to 3-1 on a power play 1:44 into the second period. He finished the night with 2 goals and 4 assists. McCulley tacked on two goals later in the period to boost the advantage to 5-1, part of a 3-goal, 2-assist night for the junior.

"It's just that chemistry they've built over the years," Swartz said of the Leach-McCulley lift. "They don't have to talk a lot on the ice. They're great. They're automatic."

The Blue Streaks (5-14-0-0), with 10 skaters available, matched the Falcons, stride for stride, in the first period. After surrendering an early goal, the Blue Streaks Mason More tied the game 1-1 on a power play shot from a sharp angle on the left side.

But fatigue settled in as the game went on.

"When teams roll three lines like that," Tom Barnett, Manheim Township's coach said, "these guys get gassed mid-second period. Sometimes the wheels come off. We just don't have the legs."

Manheim Township goaltender Jared Gordon stopped 17 of the 26 shots he faced. At the other end, Lower Dauphin's Eric West made 22 saves on 24 shots. Midway through the third period, Manheim Township's Gavin Paterson forced a turnover and beat West with a slap shot.

"I give these guys credit," Barnett said. "There's no quit in them. They played hard all year long."

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