STONEHAM, Mass. -- The level of pressure just partaking in a Super 8 tournament play-in game can be excruciating enough. But when that game needs to exceed regulation to decide a winner, well, let's just say it is not for the faint of heart.
Monday night, inside Stoneham Arena, No. 8 seed Xaverian and No. 9 Archbishop Williams laid down the gauntlet to decide which of them would earn the right to play top-seed BC High in Sunday's opening round of the state's most-coveted high school hockey tournament.
In a wide-open offensive contest from beginning to end, a second overtime was needed before Ricky Smith, flying down the right boards, ripped a shot from the circle past goaltender Steve Jenner at 1:15 of the second overtime period to send the Hawks to the Super 8 tournament at TD Garden with a 6-5 victory.
"I had a good feeling coming onto the ice during that shift," said Smith, a senior defenseman, who missed the last two seasons due to injury. "I just felt that I needed to step up and do my job as a senior captain and step up for the team. We were pretty nervous but we could never get down. We needed to stay positive throughout. We just came out and played Xaverian hockey."
The Bishops (12-6-3) season still continues as they move into the Division 1 South tournament.
New rules this season indicate that during the first six minute overtime period, both teams play 5-on-5. In the second overtime, still six minutes in length, the number of players is reduced to 4-on-4.
Given a little more freedom to move the puck around the ice with one less player seemed to benefit the Hawks (12-3-6). While both teams were showing signs of fatigue both physically and mentally, this contest eventually would come down to which club would be the strongest inside the attacking zone. With this triumph, that nod goes to Xaverian, which finished the evening with 47 shots.
Late in the third period, the Bishops were desperately clinging to a 5-4 lead. But at 11:10, junior Jack Cook deadlocked things with a shot from the left wing that trickled through the pads of Jenner. It marked Cook's third goal of the night. During the first overtime frame, the Hawks managed six shots on Jenner but to no avail. Except for the opening period, when it registered 13 shots, Archbishop Williams' offense was experiencing difficulty trying to match Xaverian's. Yet, despite all that, the Bishops were still even after 51 minutes and change.
"I felt like we got better and better throughout the game," Hawks coach Dave Spinale said. "They had a fast start and are a very dangerous team. I give them a ton of credit. Their top six is as good as anyone we've seen all year. But I just felt after each period our team was gaining more confidence and more momentum. We really started pressuring them and they seemed to be sitting back more in that third period as if they were playing not to lose and I was telling my guys to keep going after them. We certainly got a good bounce to tie it up in that period."
In spite the Bishops dictating the play for much of the opening period it was the Hawks who converted a score on their first attempt to grab the lead. Senior forward Tony Marini took a well-placed behind-the-net pass from Tim Sweeney and one-timed it past Jenner (41 saves). The score was initially set up by Marini, who intercepted the puck along the right half wall before moving himself to the slot as he awaited Sweeney's feed.
Three minutes later, the Bishops tallied for two goals in a span of only five seconds to move in front. Ryan Dunn, a senior, beat Aidan Murphy (22 stops) with a hard wrist shot from the left circle. Then, off the face-off, senior Mike Davis moved into the right circle and lofted a shot into the top right corner. But with just 37 seconds remaining in the period, Xaverian answered. Cook notched his first, showing a burst of speed down the right wing, before letting go of a hard wrist shot into the net and send both teams into the first intermission tied at 2 apiece.
The offensive fireworks seen during the first 15 minutes carried into the middle period. Just 4:19 in, Eric Keefe put Archbishop Williams back in front with a rebound goal. It only took 20 seconds for the Hawks to grab the equalizer. Andrew Durkin, standing just outside the crease, poked in a pass from Connor McCarthy to make it 3-3.
A few moments later, the Bishops were whistled for back-to-back penalties. After a 20 second 5-on-3 advantage went by the boards, Xaverian still continued to play with a man up. However, a costly turnover at mid ice led to a 2-on-1 break for Archbishop Williams. On the play, Dunn hit Garrett Foley in stride with a centering pass. The senior capped things off with a shot between Murphy's pads coming at 7:37 to put the Bishops back on top by a goal. They would extend the advantage to 5-3 thanks to Colin Boyle's power play marker at 10:20. But with just over two minutes left in the period, Cook was able to re-direct Smith's long-range shot off the post and into the net, sending Xaverian into the break trailing by one.
"I thought we were the better team and things came down to some key saves at key moments," said Bishops head coach Derackk Curtis. "Tough way to lose in overtime because I think Steve makes that save most of the time. I thought my team played well all the way through and we were in it to win it. I think the goaltending dictated why this game was so wide-open. I think shots that most of time these guys would save. That opened things up at both ends. Take nothing away from Xaverian, they played very well but I thought my team played great too."
The Hawks dominated the third period in all facets. The offense continued to attack the Bishops end of the ice on every shift. But all of their shots were off-line. That was before Cook delivered with his tying goal late and Smith closing things out later on.
"Ricky has been a great leader for us," said Spinale. "I'm really happy and proud of him to be able to get that goal for us tonight. Jack is probably the fastest guy on our team so we like to use his speed and try to play fast. That's been our system to play fast, be physical and pressure the puck."