BOURNE, Mass. – The storylines from Tuesday’s sectional final at the Gallo Ice Arena will sound very familiar to anyone that has followed Division 2 hockey for the past few years.
For the third straight season, the Franklin Panthers took home the sectional title and, for the fourth straight season, Oliver Ames’ season ended against Franklin. The Panthers scored the game’s first three goals and held Oliver Ames to just 17 shots to claim a 3-1 victory and return trip to the TD Garden.
The Panthers started quickly with a goal inside the opening 30 seconds of the first period.
Aiden Isberg flipped the puck in front of the net to fellow senior Cam Curley and Franklin’s leading scorer in the postseason threw the puck on net. Somehow, through traffic, the puck slipped past Oliver Ames star goaltender Jimmy Tierney and stunned the huge OA crowd stationed behind the net.
Curley remarked, while sporting a freshly broken tooth, that getting in front on the scoreboard was a priority for the Panthers. He also commented that he did not even know that the puck had gotten through.
“I got as much on it as I could and I knew that if I put it on net, good things would happen. I had no idea that it went in until Dennis Pisani started yelling,” he noted.
Curley added, “Me and my linemates talked about getting that first one. We got to the net, we put it on net and it went in. And it made it easier for us to play.”
Franklin head coach Chris Spillane also spoke about the importance of getting an early goal past Tierney, who has been one of the stars of the sectional to that point. He credited a change in style for the Panthers’ strong defensive performance.
“We changed up our forecheck and trapped them,”Spillane said. “They struggled to get the puck out of the zone. I think that was a huge part of our success, not letting the big kids stretch their legs through neutral ice.”
Franklin doubled its advantage with just less than three minutes to go in the first period. Eight seconds into the game’s first power play, Tierney robbed Franklin with a great kick save only to have the rebound go directly to senior forward Pat Slason, who buried his shot over the sprawling goalie.
The Panthers made it 3-0 midway through the second period on a well-worked goal from the third line. Nick Downie and Alec Borkowski combined at the blue line before defenseman Kyle Powers drove at the net. Powers sent the puck through the crease where Borkowski was on hand to tap home his second goal in as many games.
“That’s the way we have been the last couple of years; three or four lines,” said Spillane. “You never know when your number is going to get called and you better be ready when we call it.”
Oliver Ames scored a consolation goal in the game’s final minute. Kyle Hayes scored an unassisted goal with a rocket of a shot over the shoulder of Franklin goalie Devon Maloof. Maloof was not tested frequently, but was solid in net for the Panthers.
Oliver Ames head coach Jim Sullivan was proud of his team despite the loss and was proud of the Tigers’ deep run in the tournament.
“We still had the potential to come back,” said Sullivan. “The only way I look at it is someone had to win, someone had to lose. You know, we went all the way and gave it all that we had, can’t be down.”
He added a positive not about the OA program, “We’re moving one step at a time - maybe next year.”
Franklin will now look to a rematch of last year’s D2 final against Wilmington at the TD Garden. Both coach and senior captain are hoping that the third time is the charm.
“We’ve been there three years in a row and been bridesmaids two years in a row,” Spillane reflected. “I just told these kids that I will not be the Marv Levy of high school hockey.”
Curley related, “This is great right here, but I want that big one. Three years in a row I’ve been there and haven’t won one. Especially with them taking it from us last year, we want it bad.”
This has not been the perfect season and Franklin has not been the dominant team of years past, but regardless of how they got there, in their final season before a move to D1, once again the Panthers are the last team standing in D2 South.