LOWELL, Mass. — J.J. Layton’s goal in the eighth round of the shootout propelled No. 4 see Austin Prep past No. 1 BC High, 2-1, in Thursday’s semifinal, setting up a rematch of last year’s final in the Super 8 championship game at the TD Garden on Sunday.
“I thought it was a tremendous high school hockey game. It was like a heavyweight fight, back-and-forth. It was an even hockey game. I’m happy we ended up with the better end of the stick in the shootout,” said Austin Prep head coach Louis Finnochiaro.
Austin Prep had a few ups-and-downs throughout the regular season, compounded by injuries to key players, but the Cougars appear to be hitting their stride.
“We had a big time effort from everybody from start to finish. We haven’t had that all year. We played three complete periods of hockey. We had everything going tonight,” stated Finnochiaro.
The Cougars will have the chance to knock No. 2 Malden Catholic, 3-1 winners over No. 3 Springfield Cathedral in the other semifinal Thursday, off its perch. The Lancers defeated Austin Prep, 3-2, to win their third straight Super 8 crown last March.
“I’m proud of our kids to get back to the final two years in a row. That’s an accomplishment itself. Obviously our goal is to go there, not hoping to win but expecting to win. Hopefully we can have some redemption back there in the finals. Our goal is to win this thing,” stated Finnochiaro.
Layton delivers in shootout: J.J. Layton has become known for his heavy hits and solid play in the defensive zone, but his offensive prowess was the difference in the eighth round of the shootout.
The big blue liner barreled in on the BC High net before quickly wristing a shot that sailed past the blocker of goaltender Brandon Payzant.
“Usually shootouts don’t go that far so I wasn’t even planning on going in,” Layton said. “Everyone told me to shoot. I came in slow and took the shot and it ended up going in. I’m still in shock right now.”
Layton showed he is a tough customer by playing through some dehydration issues in the third period. His foot cramped up, causing him to limp off the ice midway through the final period of regulation.
“He was a little dehydrated and started to cramp up a little. We got him some fluids. He always puts in a big time effort. It was appropriate for him to get the final goal in the shootout to win the game for us,” explained Finnochiaro.
Bobo Carpenter and Eric MacAdams were the other scorers for Austin Prep in the shootout, scoring in the second and fifth rounds, respectively.
Clutch performer: MacAdams broke through with the game’s first goal at the 10:54 mark of the second period. The sophomore winger busted up the right side, beating a BC High defender and cutting in on goal before lifting a shot above the shoulder of Payzant for the 1-0 lead.
“We were trying to get odd-man rushes the whole game,” MacAdams said. “[Cam Russo] fed me a good pass. I always try to get it to the net instead of swooping it around. Try to get a penalty or a scoring chance. Luckily it went in.”
MacAdams came up clutch again in the shootout with his Cougars on the verge of elimination. Going in the bottom of the fifth round with his team needing a goal to stay alive, his deke beat Payzant wide.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Finocchiaro said. “Finishing that up was phenomenal to keep us in and to get to sudden death. He kept his composure and did a nice job.”
Not including the shootout tally, MacAdams has tallied three goals and added an assist over the past two games.
Transition game: Down 1-0 after two periods and needing some momentum, the Eagles struck quickly in the third period, evening the score in just 29 seconds.
As it has so often this season, BC High executed a transition play to perfection. Defenseman Trevor Davis used the boards to get the puck from behind his own goal line to Steve DeForge in the neutral zone. DeForge passed it up to Patrick Riley who beat Austin Prep goaltender Elijah Harris to his five-hole.
“It gave us momentum for the whole period,” BC High head coach John Flaherty said. “We had some chances, but didn’t get the bounces. I’m proud of the fact that we came out and responded the way we did in the third. We gave ourselves a chance to win.”
“Giving that up, it was big for them. The momentum changed a little bit. We were able to withstand it and finish up [regulation] in a tie,” said Finnochiaro.
Goaltenders duel: There was a sequence in the final minute where Carpenter had a swat at a rebound from point blank and BC High sophomore Kayser Raei had a golden opportunity in the slot just a few seconds later.
Neither puck found the net as two of the best goaltenders in the state stood tall and answered each other’s big saves.
“That’s a big time save, he comes up special in the playoffs,” said Finnochiaro when asked about his goaltender’s huge save in the final minute.
Harris, who had a terrific tournament as a sophomore last season, saved his best for the playoffs again this year.
“He’s a great goaltender,” Finocchiaro said. “He played well for us in the first series against Central and played well again tonight. He gave us a solid three periods tonight and he’s tough to beat in the shootout,”
His teammates were quick to talk up their backstop as well.
“He’s amazing,” Layton said of Harris. He’s the best goalie in the state. When he’s behind you playing well everything just seems to flow.”
Payzant was equally superb at the other end, making some terrific stops.
“Brandon has been great all year,” Flaherty said. “He gets overshadowed because of the systems we play, but we relied on him today. We don’t have a chance to tie it in the third if he wasn’t as good as he was in the first two periods.”
Flaherty proud: BC High’s terrific season came to an end in heartbreaking fashion, but there is still much to be proud of for Flaherty and his team, especially the seven seniors.
Co-captains Steve DeForge and Sam Topham were the two goal scorers for the Eagles in the shootout. DeForge, who also had an assist in the game, seemed to always come up with clutch goals throughout his high school career.
“We’ll look back on this and realize we had a good year,” Flaherty said. “Wins and losses, trophies and titles, I don’t need those to tell me how great the kids in that locker room are.”