WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- If somehow Springfield Cathedral can find a way to bottle up its performance during the first two periods of Saturday's matinee match-up against Mount St. Charles Academy, then the Panthers could punch their ticket for a trip to the Super 8 tournament in March.
No. 8 Cathedral put on a virtual clinic for most of the opening 30 minutes of this tilt, building a 5-goal lead before settling for a 6-2 victory at the Olympia Ice Center.
"I think we're playing pretty good right now," said Panthers head coach Brian Foley, after his team improved to 9-2-1. "Mount is a very good team and came out with a lot of energy at the beginning. They out-shot us 6-0 to start the game before we kind of got it together. It was nice to have a 5-0 lead after two periods.
“Our kids are doing a good job finishing opportunities. Overall, we played a pretty-solid game today."
Cathedral did a lot of the little things right in this one. They won many of the small battles up and down the ice and took control of the larger ones as well. They were able to imposed an aggressive style by pressuring the Mounties defense into making countless ill-advised passes up the ice to their forwards. Once MSC was able to clear its own blue line, they ran into a bevy of trouble as the Panthers were waiting for them at mid-ice and beyond, forcing them off of their projected paths towards the net.
Although the Mounties were able to send 10 shots in goaltender Keith Petruzzelli's direction during the opening frame, most came from the perimeter. Petruzzelli, a freshman, got the nod over senior John Liquori, who surrendered three goals in a loss to Central Catholic on Wednesday.
The move may have surprised some people, considering the strength of MSC's offense. However, Foley was quick dismissed any notions of a goaltender controversy brewing.
"This is Keith's second start of the year," Foley said. "We have two very good goalies which I consider to be a luxury. We are going to keep playing both of them and try to find the right combination. For a coach, it really is a luxury knowing you have two goalies that you are completely comfortable with."
Keith Petruzzelli, along with his brother D.J., has already given a verbal commitment to play for Quinnipiac University once their high school careers are over.
D.J. Petruzzelli was equally instrumental in this victory, recording a natural hat trick.
The Mounties (9-5), who played just 18 hours earlier, beating Coventry and then having to endure a two-hour bus ride here, showed no signs of fatigue at the start. They dictated the offensive tempo from the opening face off and move the puck around the Cathedral zone with relative ease for the first four minutes. But Petruzzelli (26 saves) was able to survive the early onslaught before Cathedral started to find its legs.
Following the MSC flurry, the Panthers, sticking with their effective on-the-mark passing and speed skills, began to find gaps within the Mounties defense. They were able to create space in the neutral zone and continue to keep distance once inside Mountie territory. At 8:57 of the opening period, Cathedral capitalized on its efforts. Johnny Leonard, a sophomore, sent a cross-ice feed from the right circle over to Cam Peritz. The freshman was able to get a step ahead of the defense and flipped a shot past Brian Larence for a 1-0 lead.
Larence has been a valuable commodity in MSC's arsenal. The senior had posted three shutouts in his last four games coming in. On this day however, he wasn't as fortunate, stopping 23 of 29 shots.
"We gave up way to many odd-man rushes today," said Mounties assistant head coach David Belisle. "It seemed like it was happening on nearly every shift. I think we were over-anxious at times. Our concentration, especially in the second period, was awful."
Despite the change in momentum that Cathedral enjoyed over the final 10 minutes of the first period, putting up 13 shots, it appeared as though MSC would only be down by a goal heading into the first intermission.
But with just 3 seconds remaining, Leonard was left unattended on the short side of the net and beat Larence with a hard wrist shot under his catching glove, giving his team a two-goal lead.
"We were kind of scrambling around during the second half of the first period," Belisle said. "Giving up that goal late got [them] in their game and got us way off of our game."
The Panthers carried their opening period resurgence into the middle frame. In spite playing a man down, it didn't seem to matter. Leonard chalked up his second goal (No. 14 this season) at 6:45 by finishing off a 2-on-1 break, firing a shot just under Larence's glove to make it 3-0.
Four minutes later, it was D.J. Petruzzelli's time to shine. Another turnover resulted in a hard rush down ice for Cathedral's top line. Forward Peter Crinella started things before handing the puck over to Leonard, who then found Petruzzelli in front of the crease. The junior finished off the drive by stuffing a shot between Larence's leg pads for a four-goal advantage.
Petruzzelli was not finished. With under a minute remaining in the period, another odd-man rush by the Panthers set the stage for his second goal and a 5-0 lead.
"I think we had a top-to-bottom team effort today," said D.J. Petruzzelli. "All of our lines jumped in and played well. Keith played really well in net and I think we just kept pouring it on. All in all it was a good team effort."
MSC opened the final period with a concentrated effort of shoring up its patented 1-2-2 zone in the hopes of slowing down the Panthers. For the most part, it seemed to work as Cathedral was now finding things a bit more difficult in its attempts to work the puck inside the Mounties' zone. In turn, that finally opened things up for MSC's offense. Within a span of 20 seconds, the Mounties found the back of the net twice on goals by Devin Votta (team-high 13) and Patrick Holmes, cutting the deficit to 5-2.
But the hole MSC dug for itself was too deep to crawl out of. With less than two minutes to go, Petruzelli notched his third tally after ripping a shot from the right point, which sailed past Larence, putting an end to any comeback hopes by the Mounties.
"The good thing we can take out of this moving forward is we can't win many games against good teams like this by giving up that many odd-man rushes," Belilse said. "I think we'll be alright. We try to play our best hockey in February and that is the hope again for us this year."