WOBURN, Mass.—For the last three seasons, the postseason has not been kind to the Arlington Catholic Cougars after three straight years with a first-game exit.
This year, the Cougars were determined to turn that around and took another step forward with a 2-0 win over Burlington, the No. 1 seed, at the O’Brien Rink Saturday night and will now face Andover Thursday night for a spot in the Division I North final.
Arlington Catholic (14-7-2) was led by a penalty killing unit that needed to kill off five Burlington power plays – with three in the game’s first five minutes – and senior goaltender Dylan Morris, who was stout in the victory making 26 saves.
“I will tell you that our penalty kill is the best around and it is as simple as that,” said Cougars coach Dan Shine. “I am very proud of that. I am not proud when we take the penalties, but we kill penalties very well. We have guys that have bought into that and they do a phenomenal job. I can’t say enough about it because I think that saved the game.”
Burlington (14-3-6) controlled play in the first period, aided by the power play, but could not put any of their 12 shots past Morris.
Late in the second period, the Cougars broke through on Burlington goalie Nick Howard (16 saves) when first year senior Paul Frisoli fired a hard wrist shot that changed direction on the way and sailed over Howard’s shoulder for a 1-0 lead at the 12:31 mark.
“We took Paul on the team and we weren’t sure if it was going to work out,” said Shine. “He has really stepped up the last month of the season. It took him a while because he never played at this level before. He is one of those pleasant surprises.”
Just 2:49 into the third period, the Cougars doubled their lead when senior Ryan Smith drove hard to net and with his back facing the Burlington net, slipped a backhander past Howard.
“Andy [Somerville] was coming down the wing and he saw me coming through the slot and I got turned around and just threw it at the net,’ said Smith. “I have been on this team for four years and this year we came together and said this year is going to be different. The win against Billerica was a big step and we carried that over into tonight.”
Burlington’s best chance to cut into the lead came with 11:23 left in the third period when Tommy Hanafin found a loose puck at the doorstep and an open side but Morris stretched out with his arms and smothered the bid at the right post.
ROGERS LEADS DEFENSE: While AC goalie Dylan Morris was solid in the Cougars cage, his defense led by senior John Rogers were instrumental in the victory.
Rogers logged major minutes on the back end and on several occasions broke up a Devils attempt with a body check or a simple stick in the passing or shooting lane.
In the first period, Rogers quickly turned defense to offense with a rush past a Burlington defenseman into the Burlington zone and shifting to his forehand before being denied by Howard, nearly getting AC on the board.
In the game’s final minute, Rogers was all over the defensive end and as the final seconds waned down, he scaled the puck down the river out of harm’s way, yet again.
“He is the man,” said Shine. “You saw that rush he had early in the game and he blew right by a guy. I don’t know how that didn’t go in. He has really done a great job for us and he is a great leader.”
DEVILS BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: In a recent two-year stretch, all the Burlington hockey program did was win state titles.
Now, after a first-round exit last year and this postseason where the Devils lost two games to Woburn and AC without scoring a goal over six periods, the Devils must regroup.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Burlington coach Bob Conceison. “We did everything well and I thought we played a great game tonight. We had numerous opportunities but we didn’t bury them. The kids have a lot to be proud of but that’s a tough way to end.”
Burlington will return a very strong junior class including forwards Robby McLean, Robby Ryan, Tommy Hanafin, and Anthony Nikolopolous.
Defensemen Josh Boulos, Shane O’Halloran, and goalie Nick Howard will all be back next season on the back end as well so expect Burlington to be back in the mix.
“We do have a lot coming back and kids just need to get better at what they do,” added Conceison. “If these kids get better then I think we will be a real good team next year.”