BOSTON -- The battle for the Catholic Conference played out Wednesday night at UMass-Boston, as top-ranked Malden Catholic took on No. 5 BC High in a heated and physical matchup.
The two rivals have been heading in different directions in the course of their past four games. Malden Catholic came into action, having won their last four, outscoring their opponents 24-13 along the way. For BC High, the offense has struggled of late and the Eagles have gone 1-2-1, including a tough loss to St. John's Prep on Saturday.
However, BC High's effort was much improved Wednesday. The Eagles used two power play goals to scrounge up a 2-2 tie against the Lancers, who held a 33-15 shot advantage.
From the puck drop, Malden Catholic (7-1-2, 4-0-1) carried the play. They peppered BC High goaltender Peter Cronin, who stopped 10 of 11 first-period shots. Only senior captain Brendan Collier found a way to put the puck past Croning in the opening frame on a beautiful feed from line mate Ryan Fitzgerald.
“Fitzy got the puck…and I saw that the defensemen were coming toward the middle,” Collier said, “and I kind of snuck behind the left defensemen and Fitzy put it in an area and let me skate towards it, and just – instinct, I made the move around Cronin and buried it.”
The goals proved to be few, but not far between. While on a power play, just 48 seconds after Malden Catholic took the lead, BC High assistant captain Bartley Regan pumped a rebound into a gaping net past the glove of a sprawling Peter Cronin, tying the game, 1-1.
The game then became a grind. Both teams threw their weight around in heavy doses and combined for a total of 14 minor penalties through the course of the game. It would prove more detrimental to Malden Catholic, as BC High (6-2-2, 2-2-2) took the lead on the power play on a pinpoint wrist shot from captain Matt Sullivan.
Malden Catholic head coach John McLean felt being on the penalty kill too long kept his team from playing their game.
“I don’t think we played as well as we can,” McLean said. “We spent most of the game in the penalty box, you know, that takes away from our offense. When we have three lines rolling we’re a good team."
BC High head coach John Flaherty was glad to take the man-advantages Malden Catholic was dishing out. He also liked the way the team took advantage of their opportunities on the power play.
“We were getting pucks to the net and getting bodies to the net, we tried to just simplify. Neither one of them were overly beautiful goals, but they got to the net and they went in.”
Only 29 seconds after BC High scored their second power-play goal, defensemen Colin MacGillivray stepped up into the high slot and ripped a shot which barely squeaked through Cronin’s pads.
During a physical third period, both teams tightened up their play. BC High struggled to get their offense going and could only muster six shots against goaltender Connor Maloney.
Defensively, the Eagles began closing gaps and giving the skilled offensive players from Malden Catholic less room to operate -- a strategy Flaherty says the team was prepared to execute.
“[Malden Catholic] has guys that are very skilled, and they can skate and they can make plays.” Flaherty said. “So at the very least you have to get in their way. They bang, and if you don’t bang your gonna get run over. It’s unlikely you’re gonna match their skill, but if you compete with them and work hard, then you’ve got a shot.”
It also helps to have Cronin between the pipes. He turned away all 12 third-period shots Malden Catholic threw at him.
The tie marked the first game versus a Catholic Conference opponent in which Malden Catholic could not earn a victory.
Cronin stopped 31 of 33 shots on the night.
“I just tried to take it one at a time," the Junior goalie from Norwell said. "If you’re too caught up on one maybe you should have had earlier, it’s gonna effect your mindset. You gotta just stay in the moment, you gotta think of the next one, the next one, and that’s how you gotta treat it, especially in a game like this against a team as good as this.”
It's the caliber of Cronin's performance the Eagles have come to expect.
“I’ve said it a number of times,”Flaherty said about his goaltender’s consistency, “and I’ll continue to say it. He gives us a chance to win or tie every night by his presence in the net. He makes some spectacular saves but more importantly, he makes the ones he’s suppose to make.”