WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Late game heroics led to a thrilling comeback for St. John's Prep in a midday battle of Super 8 contenders Saturday.
After dropping a four-goal deficit to Springfield Cathedral early in the final period, the No. 3 Eagles battled back in their last six minutes at the Ristuccia Center to force a 5-5 tie with 17 seconds remaining.
With both teams likely qualifying for the Super 8 tournament, the tie may prove an important step for the No. 6 Panthers (9-6-5) in entering the top six seeds and avoiding a postseason play-in game.
“I told these guys that I think that [was] a great lesson for us because no lead is safe,” Prep head coach Kristian Hanson said. “Hockey is a game of bounces. Once we got one or two, I think we started to believe a bit.”
The Eagles' final goal came off an open net tip-in by leading scorer senior Sam Kurker in the finals seconds. Catching a shot off the back of junior Andrew Brandano five yards out from the net, sophomore Tyler Bird slid a pass through a pile to opposite post for Kurker to finish the rally.
The Boston University commit finished the game with two goals and two assist.
“I was thinking 'Is this going to pop out to me right now?' and it actually did,” Kurker said. “I just tried to bury the shot and got lucky there. I crash the net and what happens happens.”
Prep (12-6-1) was nearly finished fourteen minutes early after dropping a blue-line rip by Cathedral senior captain Frank Crinella in the first minute of the final period to go down 5-1. However a deep-planted wrist shot by senior Nick Pandelena with 5:19 remaining helped breathe life back into the Eagles.
A breakaway score by Brandano minutes later led the way for Pandelena to knuckle a bouncing puck off two players and into the top corner for a 5-4 score at 1:23. A ricochet off Kurker during the score credited him with the goal.
“It is [about] chipping away one at a time and getting the next one,” Hanson said. “The last thing you want to do is let them clear the puck easily and run some time off. Just get dirty and get puck to the net.”
Prep looked to be in control early after out shooting Cathedral 8-3 in the first period, but entered the break tied 1-1. Despite intense pressure from the Eagles early in the second, Cathedral capitalized on the Eagles' mistakes to score the next four goals and grab a commanding lead by the first minute of the final period.
Drifting into the Eagles zone, sophomore Brendan Ashe bodied his defender, stunted his shot, and caught the keeper off guard to hit net in the first minute of the second period. Ten minutes later a two man advantage opened a gap for freshman Peter Crinella to slip a low pass in front of the netminder to open Ashe up on the post for his second score at 4:07.
“You just want to get pucks on net in a game against a good team like St. John's,” Cathedral head coach Brian Foley.
Within one minute of Ashe's goal, a near score on a one timer by Prep left Peter Crinella wide open behind a celebrating defense for a one-on-one with the goal keeper to slide the Panthers ahead 4-1. Peter Crinella finished with one goal and three assist, while teammate junior Matt Foley also had three assist for the Panthers.
“One play to me kind of defines that second period,” said Hanson of the Panthers' fourth score.
Sophomore keeper John Liquori made 29 saves for Cathedral, while David Letarte, who played the first two periods for Prep, combined with fellow senior Jared Hynes to make 10 saves. Junior Brian Pinho scored the first goal of the game off an assist from Kurker, while junior Artie Potter evened the game for Cathedral with a deep snipe.
“I think both teams were looking at this game as a chance to be a top six ([eed],” Brian Foley said. “I think we got a little complacent (in the third period) and to their credit they worked hard, but I believe a tie is a good finish for both teams as far as points go.”