LAWRENCE, Mass. – Central Catholic senior forward Lloyd Hayes emerged from the room, hobbled but no worse for the wear. With a large ice pack strapped around his right shoulder, the Raiders’ veteran has been in these kinds of spots before.
No. 5 Central played a nearly flawless game through a period-and-a-half, only to watch a three-goal lead evaporate midway through the third period against No. 8 Springfield Cathedral.
That’s when Mr. Reliable came through again.
Not even a bad wing could prevent Hayes from netting the game-winning goal with less than two minutes to play, before adding a second with an empty-netter, while leading the Raiders to 5-3 win in a duel of Super 8 hopefuls at Valley Forum.
“How he carries himself is a true testament to how we came back and it’s fitting that he got that goal,” Central head coach Mike Jankowski said of Hayes. “We could have created a little distance early on, but we couldn’t finish. But that’s a great team we let come back. They made some plays, capitalized on the power play and got us on our heels a little bit.”
In a matchup of two of the state’s best top lines, Cathedral freshman Riley Prattson shone brightest.
Playing alongside the state’s top two scorers entering action – in Division 1 commits Peter Crinella and D.J. Petruzzelli – Prattson almost single-handedly pulled the Panthers out of a 3-0 hole, scoring three straight goals for his first career hat trick.
Cathedral (8-2-1) controlled early play, however, Central (8-1-1) took a 2-0 lead to the room at the first intermission. Eric Robbins buried Richie Greenberg’s feed for Central’s first goal at 5:26, before Alex Lester was the beneficiary of some precision passing from David Sheehan and Corey Webber with 2:05 remaining.
The Raiders extended the lead to three in the second period, when Christian Thompson snuck down the wing and put one short-side with assists from Cam Smith and Zack Cote at 2:29.
It was at that time Panthers head coach Brian Foley made a goaltending change, lifting starter John Liquori for freshman Keith Petruzzelli.
“You’re just trying to change the momentum,” Foley said. “It’s not that John was to blame for any of the goals, but I think Keith came in and did a good job.”
The move seemed to lift Cathedral, as the Panthers struck for their first of two power-play goals on the evening with 8:27 remaining in the second.
The onslaught from Prattson continued into the third period. He scored his second at 5:46 with an assist from Crinella, before striking again on the man-advantage with 7:23 to play. Crinella picked up his second point of the game with the assist.
“We had Zack [Prattson] there originally,” Foley said of his top line, “but we then put Riley there because we wanted Zack’s size on the second line. The three of those guys, Peter, D.J. and Riley, every night someone else is scoring the goals. And then, Johnny Leonard, Cam Peritz and Zack are scoring goals. Then, our third line recently started scoring goals.”
But even when it appeared Cathedral had momentum squarely on its side, Central came with the counterpunch – that being Hayes.
“We’re the type of team that we just keep at it and keep pushing,” Hayes added.
Hayes did just that, intercepting a Panthers’ clearing attempt out of their own end and pushing it past Keith Petruzzelli with 1:54 to play. He then added the empty-netter with 38 seconds remaining.
Cracking the code: Both teams can play an aggressive style at times, and with a Cathedral forward frequently hanging high on the Raiders’ blue line, pressure was constantly being applied on Central’s defensive corps.
Of course, with a returning All-State goaltender in Colin Soucy (30 saves) returning, that pressure has been somewhat alleviated this season, but Central did well to shut out Cathedral’s second and third lines in a deep and talented forward crop.
“We lost [Nick] Gorski and [Derek] Vaillancourt from last year, but we had a lot of kids that worked hard in the offseason and we’re working well together,” Soucy said of Central blue-liners. “Our shots on goal against is actually down from last year, surprisingly. I thought I was going to see more shots, but everyone’s doing their job.”
Yet, even if the opposition is able to circumnavigate the Raiders’ defense, there’s also the matter of beating the netminder.
“Colin’s a good goalie and I thought he played great,” Foley said. “We weren’t scoring on the first shot, so we needed to create second and third chances, but he did a good job all game of controlling the puck and not giving us those chances. But the kids kept working hard and they were rewarded with a couple power play goals.”
The road ahead: While neither coach was looking too far down the road, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the two teams meet at some point in the Super 8 tournament.
In a moment of candor, following his team’s dramatic win, Jankowski assessed where his group is at, both in the season and in the greater picture of building Central’s program to that of a statewide power.
“We’ve enjoyed playing that darkhorse, it’s been our baby,” he said. “But now I think it’s finally time where we’ve had these guys like Lloyd [Hayes], [Zack] Cote, [Alex] Lester, [Conrad Jepson] and Colin [Soucy], and now it’s time that they’re main guys. They’ve proven that they deserve the attention and the limelight and the accolades that comes with being a top team.”