BOSTON -- After watching his team take a hard-fought 2-1 win over ISL rival St. Sebastian’s, first-year Belmont Hill head coach Jeremiah McCarthy had the lights of Fenway Park shut off during his postgame comments.
“That means we did it right,” the former Harvard star said.
There was plenty for which the Hillies bench boss to be pleased in his team’s performance as the nightcap to four ISL games at Frozen Fenway on Wednesday.
The Hillies (8-3-1) took the Arrows out of their offensive pace early on, slowing St. Seb’s movement out of their own end. They were opportunistic in their chances, including Mike Najjar’s game-winning, power-play goal in the second period. And, for everything else, there was senior goaltender David Cunningham and his 27 saves.
McCarthy believes it all starts up top though.
“Really, the key for our team is the third forward, making a defensive commitment, trying not to be out-rushed,” he said.
Belmont Hill kept the Arrows (7-4-1) from darting through the neutral zone with a third man high, pressuring St. Seb’s blue-liners into turnovers.
The Hillies maintained a shots advantage throughout and struck first on Mike Leary’s put back on the second rebound off a breakaway shot by Stephan Brennan. After the Arrows faired to clear out the rebound attempt, Leary found himself with nothing but net in front of him, as Arrows goaltender Gordon Donnelly (30 saves) was out of position after making the previous two saves.
St. Seb’s struck back just before the first intermission. Sophomore forward Corey Ronan (son of former NHL-er Ed Ronan) let off a laserbeam of a wristshot, tucking one beneath the crossbar and beating Cunningham stickside with 28.4 seconds remaining.
Belmont Hill got the go-ahead tally on the man-advantage in the second.
Najjar worked the puck free along the boards and fed a pass to the high slot where defenseman Terry Goguen was waiting. After sliding between the circles, Goguen let off a high shot. After Najjar mucked his way to the top of the crease, he was able to get a stick on Goguen’s shot and tip home the game-winner.
“We haven’t been running it that well,” Hajjar said of the Hillies’ power play. “We got it back to the point … Somehow, it went in.”
PURE OUTDOOR HOCKEY
Cunningham was strong in nets for the Hillies, but it was the toque fashioned on top of his goaltenders mask that stole the show.
Perhaps a nod to Jose Theodore in the original Heritage Classic?
“I was walking down the hall last week, and a kid had this hat on,” Cunningham said. “I couldn’t believe it because it had my number on it.”
Cunningham asked his classmate if he could borrow it for the game. With the help of his grandmother’s stitching, the Hillies netminder had an extra layer of protection against the freezing tempurature.
It made his return to Fenway Park all that much more special.
“I was the backup [last time], so I didn’t get a chance to play,” said Cunningham, who was a sophomore when Belmont Hill last played Fenway in 2010. “This means a lot to me. My whole family was here, so I meant a lot to them, too.”
CARRYING THE TORCH
McCarthy, a Hillies alum, is in his first season at the helm of the program, after Ken Martin’s retirement from coaching.
Filling the shoes of a legend with over 700 wins to his name is no small task, but McCarthy learned personally from the best in his time skating with the Hillies. For that matter, his J.V. hockey coach (in 1992) was another Hillies legend, Kevin Fleming, who recently retired from his post as Hillies’ head football coach.
Clearly, McCarthy has a lot of support to lean on.
“Coach Martin’s a very special part of it,” McCarthy said. “To have him as an advisor, as a mentor, as I learn the craft of coaching is incredibly special.”