NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Steven Merrick has been the picture of hard work and dedication for Central Catholic, putting in extra time throughout the offseason to grow from a bit player a year ago to a regular shift on the Raiders third line as a senior.
When Sunday's Super 8 day one battle with St. Mary's passed through three full periods and a 12-minute overtime without a winner being decided, Merrick was shooter number four on Central coach Mike Jankowski's list for the shootout session. Six players went before Merrick hopped over the boards for his turn with none being able to penetrate two of the state's top goalies, as Central's Kyle Williams and the Spartans' Bailey MacBurnie turned aside shot after shot.
Merrick skated to center ice, surveyed the scene, then began to skate. Rather than try something fancy, the hard-working senior kept it simple, walking straight in on MacBurnie and blazing a wrist shot past his stick hand.
Three more shooters came and went, all were denied, and that left Merrick as the final hero in a game filled with them as the seventh-seeded Raiders ended up with a 6-5 victory over No. 2 St. Mary's on day one of the Super 8 round robin.
"Merrick is a senior, he's got great hands and he's a great kid," praised Jankowski. "Last year he really made a transformation and committed himself to hockey. Last year he was here but didn't play a whole lot and he's earned his spot but he's done that all through hard work and dedication in the offseason. For him to get that kind of goal at the end its just awesome."
Central Catholic (13-3-5) scored three straight goals from the eight minute mark of the second period through 5:27 of the third to take what seemed at the time like a commanding 5-3 lead. St. Mary's (18-1-3) showed it had tremendous resolve despite making its first appearance in the Super 8 field as a seeded team.
Brendan Magaery converted a terrific feed from behind the net by Jarrod Fitzpatrick for a one-timer at 8:09, and a huge save by MacBurnie jumpstarted a two-on-one break with Connor Parent and Thomas Braswell. Parent carried the puck in and held for a shot, which Central goalie Kyle Williams stopped, but the rebound came quickly to Braswell, who snapped it home before Williams had a chance to react, knotting the game at 5-5 with 2:43 left in regulation.
"A lot of the leaders were speaking up on the bench and we talked about it before the game," Spartans head coach Mark Lee said. "There's been other teams in these tournaments that came back from more than two goals and we wanted to be one of those teams to make a comeback. Even during that third period we hit the post a couple of times. We just didn't seem to get that many bounces tonight. That's not any excuse. We played a very good team and hats off to them too."
BACK & FORTH ALL DAY
Central opened the scoring at 1:26 of the first, catching the Spartans in a line change that enabled a two-on-none opportunity, which Michael Hovanian buried on the Raiders second shot of the game
Tim Aylward evened things up for St. Mary's late in the frame, utilizing a flashy spin move to get around a CC defenseman and tick a high shot behind Williams.
Mike Kelleher put Central back in front just 34 seconds into the middle frame with an assist from Zachary Cote but St. Mary's rallied with back-to-back goals by Magaery and Bobby Mullins, the latter coming off a rebound of a shot by Cam Grenham at 4:57.
Just over three minutes later, Ryan Daigle took a beautiful pass from Cote (three assists) and banged home a one timer to tie things at 3-3.
"You have to give them a lot of credit," Jankowski said of St. Mary's. "They were good, they gave us a lot of pressure in our own zone and Kyle held us in there. We had a bend but don't break sort of attitude and then we were able to pop back in transition because they were being so aggressive and get a couple the other way so it worked out well for us."
In the overtime, Kyle Williams turned in easily his best period of the day. The Spartans outshot the Raiders, 42-23 in the game and 10-2 in the 12-minute overtime period.