NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- With one period to play in Sunday night's Super 8 game between top-seeded Malden Catholic and eighth-seeded St. John's of Shrewsbury, everyone in attendance at Merrimack College's Lawler Arena was on upset alert.
The underdog Pioneers carried a one-goal lead into the third and were 15 minutes away from making headlines. Those 15 minutes were dominated by Malden Catholic, however. The Lancers scored two third-period goals and held St. John's to one shot on goal in the period to escape with a 3-2 victory.
“Gotta' give St. John's Shrewsbury all the credit,” Malden Catholic coach John McLean said. “I thought they played hard, they were smart, they clogged up the middle. We got a lot of shots on net, but I wouldn't say a lot of quality shots.
“We just kept digging and rolling out three lines. Told the guys to get pucks to the net, crash the net. You know what? It worked out in the end.”
Boston College-bound center Ryan Fitzgerald collected the game-winning goal with 34.7 seconds to play after he swatted in his own rebound after receiving a pass from Brendan Collier.
“Brendan gave me a nice pass from behind the net,” Fitzgerald said. “I just kept whacking at it and it ended up in the back of the net. It was just a matter of time before we got rewarded for our hard work.
“There was some frustration in the room [after two periods] but we kept our heads high and stuck with our game plan.”
Malden Catholic, last year's Super 8 champion, tied the game when defenseman Colin MacGillivray scored 3:02 into the third. The Lancers outshot the Pioneers 37-5 and improved their record to 16-1-4.
Senior forward Connor Bertram and junior forward Vin D'Amato provided the goals for St. John's Shrewsbury, which had to beat Needham in a play-in game to reach the field of eight. The Pioneers dropped to 16-5-3.
The Pioneers gained the momentum when Bertram opened the scoring 2:02 into the first period. Ara Nazarian tied the game on a backhanded shot from the left circle 8:00 into the second, then St. John's Shrewsbury regained the lead on D'Amato's 25th goal with 3:08 left in the second.
St. John's goaltender Mario Pizzeri made 34 saves, but it wasn't enough.
“Our leaders stood up when they had to,” McLean said. “Fitzy [Fitzgerald] and Brendan Collier have been carrying us all year. They went out there and they did the job. They're clutch players.”
Perhaps the best way to describe the Pioneers' performance through two periods is efficient. St. John's scored on one of its three shots in the opening period, and on its only shot in the second.
“We wanted to keep their quality shots down as much as we could,” St. John's coach Brian Murphy said. “[Mario] kept us in there. I thought he played very well.
“We wanted to keep it away from their top guns, who are obviously very skilled, and see if we could chip a couple in, which we were able to do. It was a good, quality team effort. We wanted to keep it as close as we could for as long as we could. We just couldn't get the third one.”
Each team will return to action Tuesday night at Merrimack College. St. John's will face Hingham at 5:45, and Malden Catholic will meet BC High at 8:15.
“I'm happy with the way we played, we just have to score earlier,” McLean said. “I thought St. John's did a very good job tonight.”