MALDEN, Mass. -- Hingham was beating and beat up No. 1 Malden Catholic for the greater part of two periods Thursday in the teams' first-round game at the inaugural Christie Serino Christmas Classic.
The Harbormen took it to the host Lancers and clung to a 1-0 lead through the third period, playing a physical, sound defensive brand of hockey.
Then, as so many teams have found out in the last several years in MC's run to back-to-back Super 8 titles, the margin for error against the Lancers is razor-thin. In about a two-minute span of the third, Hingham went from leading, to tied, to losing and desperate. MC held on the late lead for a 2-1 win over the Harbormen, thanks to a two-goal effort from sophomore center Ara Nazarian.
"You can't be perfect against them, that's tough," Hingham head coach Tony Messina lamented after his team put in a nearly 45-minute complete effort. "They're just coming at you all the time."
Hingham (3-2-0) claimed the lead midway through the second period when junior center Matt Brazel collected a loose puck off the right wing boards in the neutral zone and strafed in on a breakaway at Mach speed, beating Lancers netminder Connor Maloney 5-hole on the finish.
MC (3-0-0) struggle to find any sort of offensive rhythm despite being given three power-play opportunities in the first period, in which the Lancers were held to just two shots. At even strength, the Harbormen continued their aggressive forecheck and clogged up passing lanes through center ice, taking away MC's penchant for home-run type plays through the neutral zone.
"They were jamming us in," Lancers head coach John McLean said. "We found the middle a couple of times, but it comes down to the fact that they outworked us."
However, things opened up for MC ever so slightly in the third period, when the Lancers outshot Hingham, 12-4. While a majority of MC's shots came from the periphery, the Lancers stepped up their presence in front of Harbormen goaltender John Grenier (24 saves). Those efforts came to bear when Nazarian pulled the Lancers even with 6:56 remaining in the game, taking a directed slap pass from defenseman Nick Rolli and chipping it past a splayed out Grenier.
Nazarian then followed with the game-winner 2:33 later, depositing the rebound from a shot by winger Mike Iovanna. Tyler Sifferlen notched his second assist of the game on the play.
"We came out for the first two periods and we got dominated,” Nazarian said. “They were all over us, working way harder than we were. Going into the third, in the locker room, we talked about making the simple plays, just getting it deep and working hard and it paid off."
FAMINE THEN FEAST
McLean was frustrated by the Lancers' lack of production on the man-advantage, although both teams combined to go 0-for-10 on the power play, with the respective penalty kill units staving off five chances each.
And while Messina was pleased by the work of his man-down unit, the frequency with which they saw the ice was maddening.
"We had to kill too many penalties the whole game and we use the same players on the kill that we need to score goals, so it worked against us there at the end," Messina said.
Hingham's defensive effort, led by another strong outing from preseason All-State blue-liner John Carlson, on a whole was overshadowed by a momentary lapse in the third period. But the Harbormen imposed their will for the majority of play.
"We were pretty happy about that," Messina said of his team's efforts in the neutral zone. "They're very good with their long passes up to their forwards and that's what you've got to watch for."
Hingham dealt MC a dose of their own medicine when it came to Brazel's goal in the second. The fleet-footed pivot was able to step behind the MC defensive pairing and then turned a step into a country mile.
After collecting the loose puck in full stride, Brazel took on the long stride of Usain Bolt to the finish line before finishing with the wrester.
Brazel's final burst inspired awe on the Harbormen bench, including that of former BC standout and Boston Bruin Bobby Allen, who's an assistant on Messina's staff now, even expressed his amazement.
"We talked about it on the bench," a wide-eyed Messina said.
He added, "He separated, it was unbelievable. That showed me a lot in that it was at the end of his shift, too."
MC advances to play another Top 10 squad in Austin Prep in the Serino Tournament championship game today at the Malden Valley Forum (6 p.m.).
The tournament is dedicated to the memory of the late Lancers head coach and athletic director who succumbed to cancer in October. Serino's wife, sons and family members joined the team captains for a ceremonial puck drop before MC's tilt with Hingham.
"We want to keep it every year and make it special," McLean said of the first-year event. "It was nice having his wife and kids here and his family, it was important. He gave a lot to the school."