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Sunday, February 6, 2011
Blackwell leads No. 9 Prep over Xaverian

By Tom Layman

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- In the days leading up to St. John’s Prep rematch with Catholic Conference foe Xaverian, head coach Kristian Hanson stressed the importance of another league win. He even went so far as to call Saturday’s game a “must win” to keep the postseason in reach.

What he got was the Prep’s most “complete game of the season.”

Colin Blackwell notched two goals and the Eagles’ (8-4-1) defense dominated the Hawks with a 4-1 victory at Ristuccia Memorial Arena.

“I stressed to them over the past three days that this was the biggest game of the year,” Hanson said. “It has such huge implications on the league, on the tournament, on everything. We put a ‘must win’ tag on it and I really think the kids responded to that, stepped up and played their best game of the year.”

From the opening faceoff it was apparent that the Prep came out with the coach’s words ringing in their collective heads. Defenseman Nick Pandelena made a big hit on a Hawks’ (7-5-1) attacker and fired a hard slap shot directly on Dave Michaels in the game’s first shift.

That was the theme of the first period.

The Eagles outshot the Hawks 13-2 in the first, and while they didn’t crack through on the scoreboard, the constant pressure set up the stage for things to come.

Blackwell struck first at 5:12 of the second period, when he screamed up the right side, burst to the middle of the ice in front of Michaels and backhanded it home. John Farrow was credited with the assist on the play.

Xaverian earned a power play, but were called for a penalty of their own just 33 seconds into the advantage.

The Hawks did find a few holes in the Prep defense for stretches in the second period, but all of that turned around when Joe Currie sent a pass from his end line to Farrow at the blue line. Farrow directed a one-time touch pass to a streaking Blackwell at center ice. Blackwell beat both Hawks’ defenders up the ice and he tucked it under the right pad of Michaels with 1:11 left to go in the second.

On both goals, Blackwell was in a one-on-one with Michaels. Instead of settling for a shot, Blackwell stayed patient enough to get the goalie to show his hand.

“The key is to just make the goalie move,” Blackwell said. “They’ve got big pads and it’s tough to go side-to-side, so if you get them moving laterally it will open up.”

Hanson went as far to say that his top forward might be the best in the state.

“There’s a lot of great players out there, but if I had to pick one guy to put on my team it would be Colin Blackwell,” Hanson said.

Christian Gutowski’s blast from the point got through traffic and past Michaels for the 3-0 lead at 9:16 of the third period.

The Prep held a 37-19 shot advantage in the game and most of the Hawks’ shots came from the perimeter. Most of that was was because the Hawks couldn’t penetrate the fortress that is the Eagles’ back-line with bigger, beefier defensemen like Pandelena and Gutowski.

The other half of the equation is the Hawks recent struggles putting the puck in the net. Before Jason Salvaggio was credited with tipping home an Eddie Martin slapper from the point with 2:51 left in the game the Hawks had gone eight-plus periods without lighting the lamp.

“We turn the puck over a lot on the blue line offensively,” said Xaverian head coach Dave Spinale, whose team has dropped five in a row. “We have to have more poise at the blue line and have better zone entry, so that when come in to the zone we are looking to set up.

“Once we get the numbers I think we have to do a better job of getting to the net. I feel like we have guys standing on the perimeter too much. We have to get in to the teeth of the defense.”

Sam Kurker’s empty-netter ended the scoring.