STONEHAM, Mass. -- Despite being unbeaten coming into last night’s game against Central Catholic, the Austin Prep boys’ hockey team had yet to earn a resume-building win.
On Wednesday night, the Cougars bagged a win worthy of such distinction. The Cougars fought back from a two-goal, first-period deficit to defeat the Raiders, 4-2, in a battle of Top 10 teams.
“If there’s one thing we can count on it’s resilience,” Austin Prep head coach Louis Finocchiaro said. “We persevered tonight through a lot of adversity. Our bench stood calm. Our guys kept their poised.”
It all went wrong at the start of the game for the Cougars (5-0-3), as they allowed Central’s veteran attack to control the game. Senior Mike Kelleher cut through the AP defense and deked out sophomore Elijah Harris to put the Raiders up less than three minutes into the game.
Less than four minutes later, junior Conrad Jepson ripped a shot from the blue line that found the back of the net. The screened Harris didn’t move until the puck was behind him.
Central (5-2-1) continued to buzz throughout but were unable to score again.
“We played well consistently through, we just couldn’t capitalize,” Central head coach Mike Jankowski said. “You’ve got to tip your hat to them, they played well especially the goaltender.”
Then, AP sophomore Bobby Carpenter turned the tide with an odd goal midway through the period. His wrist shot seem destined for Colin Soucy’s glove but hit off the top of the mitt and into the net to halve the deficit before the intermission.
The Raiders had plenty of chances, outshooting Austin 36-19, but Harris buckled down and took over after Jepson’s goal. No save was more fantastic than his full split midway through the second to turn away a sure-goal from senior Derek Vaillancourt.
“It was probably the best game I’ve played in my three years of high school hockey,” Harris said. “It was a fun game to play in. They made it kind of easier getting more shots. [I] started to warm up. It makes it a lot easier when the goalie’s hot.”
Senior forward Nolan Vesey tied the game in the final minute of the second period with the first of two goals. His empty-netter with 18 seconds left in the game sealed the victory.
Freshman Jake McKenelley wristed a hard shot over Soucy’s shoulder and just inside to the post to put the Cougars up for good with just over five minutes remaining.
“I caught the puck on the wall, brought it into the middle and took a shot,” McKenelley said. “We kind of just worked as a team and moved the puck well and we all believed in each other from the beginning to the end.”
PENALTY BOX PARADE
Someone could have rented out the penalty boxes and made a killing. The teams combined for 13 penalties, including nine committed by AP.
“We need to get more disciplined,” Finocchiaro said. “We’re not using our feet. We’re using our sticks, getting into guys, hooking, tripping. Those are just lazy penalties, and eventually that’s going to burn us.
“Our penalty kill was sensational. We were short-handed almost the whole second period and found a way to win the hockey game. We’re going to build off of that.”
The Raiders had four power plays in the second period alone and were able to apply sustained pressure, but were unable to make anything happen. Jankowski said that his team’s inability to finish was in part self-inflicted, but also due to the Cougars’ ability to clog lanes.
“It was as much as us not finishing as them bogging everything down,” Jankowski said. “We just couldn’t finish a couple of times. We had some point blank chances and he made some point blank saves. We generated the shots, we generated the possessions, but you’ve got to give them credit.”
March may be weeks away, but AP’s win will almost certainly be discussed by the Super 8 selection committee. There are roughly 20 teams that, as of now, have reason to believe they are in the hunt for one of the 10 bids, and every big win will mean something come selection Saturday.
At the end of the month, the Cougars will travel to Lawrence for the return match with Central.
And Finocchiaro expects another tough game on Jan. 30.
“In a couple of weeks we have them [at their place],” Finocchiaro said. “They’re going to come out physical because it’s the first game of a home-and-home [series]. Now we have to go to their building and the pressure’s kind of on them having to win in their building.”
Jankowski was more succinct.
“March is a long way away,” he said. “We have Chemlsford Saturday and they’re a really good team.”