WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Several long minutes had passed before Brian Foley appeared from the team dressing room.
In the aftermath of witnessing his Springfield Cathedral hockey team play a game of survival against Malden Catholic, resulting in a 2-1 victory in the finals of the Cathedral Hockey Classic played Thursday evening at the Olympia Ice Center, Foley seemed less than enthused after defeating the No. 1 program in the state.
Foley, and his team, know full well they had just pulled off a Houdini act against a club that had taken complete control of things over the final two-and-a-half periods. No. 2 Cathedral had set the tone early in the first period by scoring a pair of goals within the span of a minute. But the momentum of those two scores failed to garnish much strength as things started to go south thereafter.
Cathedral's early outburst acted more like a wake up call for the slumbering Lancers, as they took over the reins moments later and never let go. MC went into lock down mode on the Panthers, limiting their pursuits up ice and pinching them along the boards the rest of the way.
Had it not been for the steady play of Cathedral goaltender Keith Petruzzelli, who turned out to be the Panthers saving grace, Cathedral most likely would have come up on the short end.
Petruzzelli, a sophomore, stopped 27 shots – many of the high quality variety, including several during the final minute.
"I thought we did a good job keeping their shots on the outside," said Petruzzelli, a Quinnipiac University commit. "They didn't get a lot of chances point blank. Our defense and our off wings did a really good job keeping them out of the front. We executed well by getting in front of shots. Because of the great system that we have here, we have guys constantly selling out by blocking shots and keeping stuff out of the front of the net."
With the victory, the Panthers close out their regular season 20-0-2 and now wait for their invitation to the Super 8 tournament.
Malden Catholic, the four time defending Super 8 champs, suffers its first loss of the season as they fall to 14-1-2. If the stars align correctly, these two super powers could face one another again in the Super 8 finals next month.
"It almost felt like scoring those two early goals was a bad thing," Foley said. "I thought there was a lot of energy early and were able to establish some territory. Then when we got those first two goals it looked like it was going to be a good night for us and appeared as though we were going to out-shoot them, out-work them and out-play them. But then it just went completely the other way on us. I thought Keith played exceptionally well for us so we'll take these two points without our best effort."
In the early going, and with a jammed pack crowd in place, the Panthers came out stoked. Just 3:51 in, after MC's Austin Goldstein was whistled for roughing, Cathedral pounced on its man advantage opportunity. Senior D.J. Petruzzelli, standing in front of MC goalie Kyle Casey, redirected a Johnny Leonard blast from inside the blue line for a 1-0 lead.
Just 24 seconds later, the Panthers were back on the march. Freshman center Devon Tongue, standing just outside the Lancer goal crease, pushed back a rebound to make it a two-goal affair.
"They got on us early and we weren't ready mentally," Lancers head coach John McLean said. "It was a big crowd here and I felt our kids just weren't mentally ready to go at the start. That team has a lot of talented kids but I'm very proud of our guys for the way we battled for the rest of the game. You can't win every game and our guys could have easily quit after those first six minutes. But they didn't and went to war for the remainder of the game. It was a very good game by both teams."
Despite being down by a pair, MC shook off the cobwebs. Over the last minutes of the first and during the final two frames, MC took over. The Lancers started getting more physical at both ends of the ice, knocking the Panthers off of their anticipated lanes with a mix of forechecking and backchecking. They were also beating Cathedral to numerous loose pucks as well as limiting the Panthers' attempt to create separation once they moved inside the attacking zone.
However, in spite, their on-ice changeover, MC was still down a pair. Even when the Lancers went on the power play (five times total), they came up empty thanks to some quality special teams play put forth by the Panthers.
"You hate to see that much special teams in these types of games but we were forced to kill some penalties, make some blocks and we know Keith is the best penalty killer we have," said Foley. "We don't feel great about the win right now but I think it is a sign of a good team that doesn't play well yet can still pick up two points against a great team like Malden Catholic."
Midway through the second period, MC found a glimmer of hope when Jack Adams, off a turnover, punched one past Petruzzelli from the right circle, drawing the Lancers to within a goal.
Cathedral, who attempted just 12 shots on net for the game, spent the rest of the night diving on the ice in an attempt to push puck away from its own zone or drop down to block shots from the perimeter. When MC was able to gain space and set up shots, Petruzzelli was his team's last line of defense and held the fort.
"Keith played out of his mind for us tonight," said senior wing Peter Crinella. "He's the best goalie in the state. It was a great atmosphere here and we fed off of that early and then we kind of rode Keith the rest of the way. Malden is a great team. You know whenever you play them, they're always going to be a great team and they are well-coached."
Moments following Adams' marker, the Panthers went on a short 5 on 3 opportunity but were held in check by the Lancer defense. Cathedral ended up finishing 1-for-6 on its extra man chances.
Having managed to dodge several bullets in the middle frame, the Panthers knew these last 15 minutes would be a war of attrition. Starting to show signs of fatigue, Cathedral conjured up every last ounce of energy it had to fend off the relentless MC onslaught. Even after the final horn sounded to render them victors, the Panthers hardly had enough left in the tank to celebrate.
St. Mary's rebounds: After getting leveled by Cathedral in Wednesday night's opening round of this event, St. Mary's showed tremendous poise in bouncing back to post a 6-1 triumph over Hamden (Conn.) in Thursday's consolation game.
The 17th ranked Spartans (12-7-3) looked more like the club head coach Mark Lee has been expecting. St. Mary's broke a 1-1 tie with a two goal second period and went on to add three more in the third to put this one out of reach.
"It was a little bit of a slow start for us but I was really happy with our third period in how we came out and played some inspired hockey,'' Lee said.
Just 8 seconds into this tilt, the Green Dragons (8-8-1) took the lead. Off the opening face off, sophomore Jeremy Routh skated in alone on Spartans goalie Ryan Borders, beating the senior for a 1-0 lead. For the remainder of this contest, Borders played exceptionally well, finishing with 26 saves. Midway through the first, Jon Powers, taking a nice angle pass from Marc Zampanti, one-timed a shot past Collin Burke to tie matters.
St. Mary's took things over from there. Sophomore forward Eric Pedro struck for a pair of goals one minute apart in the second period to send the Spartans into the final intermission ahead 3-1.
St. Mary's continued its dominance over the final period with Dante Maribito, another sophomore, leading the assault. The forward netted back-to-back goals early in the frame before Mike Desmond close things out with a blast from the right circle in the final minute.
The Spartans will not earn a Super 8 berth this year, but it would not be surprising to see them make some serious noise once the Division 1 North tournament begins.
"I thought we played good (against Cathedral) Wednesday despite it being a 7-0 loss," said Lee. "We are happy with the way things are going right now but we also know we are not a team that can make mistakes. Fortunately we have learned a lot from the mistakes we have made this season. We are starting to peak at the right time. Overall, we are a young team but I think these kids are starting to get it. So now we'll have to see what happens in the playoffs."