Boston High School: Kevin Butler

Recap: No. 8 St. John's (S) 12, No. 4 Xaverian 3

May, 2, 2014
5/02/14
1:07
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WESTWOOD, Mass. -- Those expecting a tight game between two of the best Catholic school lacrosse programs in the state left the Hawk Bowl shocked Thursday night, as St. John's (Shrewsbury) blasted Xaverian, 12-3.

It was a dominant all-around performance by the Pioneers, as senior goalie Steve Kerr registered 13 saves. Meanwhile, junior attack Jared Ward tallied five goals, plus a pair of assists, and All-American Drew Smiley dished out four assists to go with a goal of his own.

"I thought we came out and played all phases of the game today," St. John's coach Terry Leary said. "That's as good as we've played in the last couple years."

Sophomore middie Andrew Cox got things started for St. John's (11-0) in the first, ripping in a shot off a pass from Smiley to give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Smiley would again create offense with his passing, this time finding senior middie Kevin Butler with a nice feed to extend the lead.

Then Ward took over. Most around the state don't know Ward. After all, he only played JV for St. John's last year, but Xaverian (7-3) won't soon be forgetting the explosive attackman.

In a span of two-and-a-half minutes, Ward threw home a feed from Smiley, wrapped around the cage for a jumping goal, then dodged in for another. His second quarter hat trick pushed the Pioneer lead to 6-0, then senior Nick Gabriele and Cox added a quick scores to make it a surprising 8-0.

By the time D.J. Sperzel stopped the bleeding for Xaverian with less than two to play in the half, it was too late.

"A couple times they got the ball [off the face-off], and were able to cause a turnover before they really got possession," Leary said. "Then once we had it, they were aggressive on our guys, and Jared Ward and the rest of our attackmen were getting a step every time they came out on them."

Jake Cox actually gave Xaverian the first goal of the second half, but St. John's quickly regained control of the game. Smiley found Butler again for a score, then added one himself from Ward less than a minute later.

Ward scored another dodging goal to close out the third and send the game to its final frame with St. John's leading 11-2.

Sperzel scored again in the fourth for the Hawks, but as he had done all game, Ward found room to work on the Xaverian side of the field, dodging in for his final goal to make it a 12-3 final.

"The practice intensity this week was outstanding," senior defenseman Will Roberts said. "We looked great in practice, and I think it starts there. (This week) it translated really well to the games."

It may seem like St. John's just had a big week, as the Pioneers established their dominance in Central Mass with a win over Shrewsbury, then notched big wins over St. John's Prep and Xaverian.

But things will get no easier for the Pioneers, who welcome Western Mass. power MInnechaug to Shrewsbury Monday, then travel to Groton-Dunstable Tuesday, before taking the long ride to Longmeadow next Friday.

The Lancers are the Pioneers' biggest competition in the newly realigned Division 2 Central/West, and St. John's will need to pick up a few more big wins before they can start thinking about a perfect campaign.

"We don't like to think about (going undefeated) or look ahead too much," Roberts said. "We've got Longmeadow next week, and we know that's gonna’ be a great game -- Minnechaug and South Hadley, too."

Recap: No. 8 St. John's (S) 9, No. 18 Shrewsbury 0

April, 27, 2014
4/27/14
11:55
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SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Amidst talk that upstart Shrewsbury, not defending district champion St. John's (Shrewsbury), might be the best team in Central Massachusetts, the No. 8 Pioneers sent a message to their rival Sunday: lacrosse in the heart of the Commonwealth still belongs to them.

Behind hat tricks from junior Jared Ward and sophomore Andrew Cox, St. John's cruised to a 9-0 win on a rainy afternoon at Shrewsbury High.

"I thought we played really well from the beginning," St. John's coach Terry Leary said. "I thought we had very few unforced errors, and that's something we've been pushing as we move toward the second half of the season."

It was a breakout day not only for the St. John's (9-0) midfield, which scored six of the team's nine goals, but also for senior goalie Steve Kerr. After waiting his turn behind now-graduated A.J. Arnold a season ago, Kerr is leading Central Mass in goals against average, at only 2.56 allowed per game. His six first quarter saves thwarted any chance Shrewsbury (9-1) had of making this a game.

"I think it was a great day for our defense," senior attackman Drew Smiley said. "Our offense has been getting the credit, but our defense has been there all year. Steve Kerr has been playing amazing all year too."

After Kerr weathered the initial storm, there wasn't much for him to do, however, as the St. John's defense limited Shrewsbury to just two more shots on goal the rest of the day. That, combined with an astonishing 20-2 advantage on ground balls, allowed St. John's to work its way out of an offensive funk, thanks to stellar play from its midfield.

The midfield, led by Cox' three goals, scored six goals total, dominated the face-off X thanks to senior Connor Maloney, and forced the normally solid Shrewsbury midfield into a number of mistakes.

"We came into the huddle [in the first quarter] and we kind of said to our middies, 'you guys can step up and you guys can control this game,'" Smiley said. "Andrew Cox, the sophomore, had a huge game. It was kind of his breakout game, and we've been waiting for him to do that all season. He's a great athlete."

Ward got things going for St. John's, scoring two goals in the first quarter, and Cox' first goal in the second quarter gave the Pioneers a 4-0 halftime lead. Cox opened the second half with a blast over Shrewsbury star goalie Chris Gorman's right shoulder to extend the lead and then added another cutting goal on a pass from senior Kevin Butler moments later.

Ward completed his hat trick and pushed the game to its final score of 9-0 midway through the fourth, establishing St. John's as the unquestioned team to beat in Central Massachusetts.

"It was a huge win for us," Smiley said. "Beating a team like Shrewsbury, they're one of the best teams in Central Mass, it's a great feeling, and we knew they were gonna bring it."

The road gets no easier for the Pioneers, as they get set to host a pair of talented Eastern Mass opponents. St. John's will first welcome St. John's Prep, Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., then Xaverian, Thursday at 4 p.m.

Recap: No. 12 St. John's (S) 3, Xavier (Conn.) 3

February, 18, 2014
2/18/14
12:16
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MARLBOROUGH, Mass. -- Inexplicably, Patrick Storer has put together quite a season for himself.

The St. John's (Shrewsbury) forward has quietly emerged as a force to be reckoned with anytime he has the puck on his collective stick. On Monday night, with his team still very-much in the hunt for a Super 8 tournament berth but trailing Xavier by a goal, the junior came through with a much-needed score midway through the third period to help the Pioneers salvage a 3-3 tie at New England Sports Center.

The Falcons, based out of Middletown, Conn., were doing everything imaginable to tighten things up inside their defensive zone in an effort to prevent St. John's from getting any quality looks on net. Early in the final frame, Xavier was successful in its task of thwarting St. John's once they moved the puck across the red line.

But on one occasion, the Falcons failed in their mission and it would prove costly. Storer took a pass from Kevin Butler in the neutral zone and out-muscled Xavier defender John Ford in his pursuit towards the Falcons net.

Storer, standing 6-foot-1, 165-pounds, had enough juice to stay with the puck and push it past goaltender Ben Guidobono at 7:56 to deadlock this hard-hitting affair.

"I've been kind of feeling it this year," said Storer, who leads the team with 11 goals. "The puck has sort of found me off of breaks and I've been getting a lot of rebound goals and catching the puck in stride. I was happy to get that goal and bring things back to even. Our team really fought back well tonight."

Despite putting 12 shots on Guidobono in the period, the Pioneers could not break the tie as Guidobono, a junior, held his ground, finishing with 32 saves.

"Ben was fantastic for us tonight," said Xavier first-year coach Dan DeConti. "He's been our go-to guy and certainly came up big for us tonight."

St. John's currently stands at 10-4-7. The odds of them earning an invite to the Super 8 still remain strong. Certainly a victory over Xaverian (on Wednesday) will increase those chances even further.

Xavier (5-8-3) has now earned ties in its last three games.

Despite being below .500 for the season, the Falcons have already clinched a playoff spot in the newly-formed Southern Connecticut Conference/South-West Conference Ice Hockey League, according to DeConti. They still have four games remaining on its schedule. Back on Jan. 11, when these two teams first met in Connecticut, St. John's won handily 5-1.

Early in the contest, the Pioneers proved more the aggressor. Creating solid passing lanes and bumping the defense off-stride, St. John's jumped ahead 1-0 at 5:03 of the opening period on a hard slap shot from senior defenseman Bryan Nelson (9 goals).

Xavier began to pick up stride soon after the score. Doing a nice job at working the puck around the Pioneer zone, several times the Falcons managed to sneak behind the defense and snap shots on senior goaltender Mario Pizzeri (20 saves). But, as per usual, Pizzeri stood tall, keeping Xavier off the board.

But at 13:24 of the period, that would change. Falcon senior forward Andrew Meoli stole the puck inside the Pioneers zone and ripped a shot into the net to tie matters at 1-1. The momentum of that score seemed to propel the Falcons at the start of the middle frame. Within a span of just over two minutes, Xavier's offense tallied a twice on goals by sophomore Cam Pollock (4:00) and senior Sean Johnson (6:34) to go up 3-1. In dire need of something positive, St. John's got it when sophomore Chris Stalmok rocketed a shot just under the crossbar at 7:39, bringing the Pioneers back to within goal. Things stayed that way until Storer's marker midway through the final period that gave St. John's a hard-earned tie.

"We weren't ready to start this game," Pioneers coach Mike Mead said. "To come back and tie it and not lose showed me something. Xavier did a great job slipping past our forwards, getting behind us and setting up a lot of odd-man rushes. Our defense seemed to be a little to eager trying to pinch and we got burned a couple of times.

“That was a big goal by Patrick. He has been a big contributor to this team and only a few know that. They all know about Bryan and Mario but Patrick does well for us and stands out. When he uses his size and speed he becomes a valuable asset for us."

Hockey teams kick off season at Regan Summitt

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
1:42
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MARLBOROUGH, Mass. -- It is never easy replacing a legend, but that is the task which has been handed down to first-year St. John's (Shrewsbury) coach Mike Mead.

Mead's Pioneers, along with many of the state's other top-echelon programs, took part in Sunday's Fifth Annual Garrett Regan Hockey Summit at New England Sports Center. The event is named after the former 26-year Hingham High coach and Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Hall of Fame inductee who passed away in June 2008.

Mead, who was appointed to the position last September, takes over for Brian Murphy, who stood behind the St. John's bench for 29 seasons, posting an overall record of 392-217-63, including a pair of Division 1 state titles (1999, 2004) and a handful of Super 8 appearances.

Mead is no stranger to St. John's. He served as an assistant under Murphy for 16 years, leaving in 2007 to spend more time with his family. He is also head of the Math Department at the school.

"Brian is a great friend and was a great mentor," said Mead. "He kind of broke me in. When this opportunity happened I jumped at it. My kids are little older now so everything sort fell into the right place at the right time for me."

Mead exudes the fact that the Pioneers have a plethora of depth, including a freshman team with 25 members. "We have a lot of kids who came back and tried out," he said. "We have good numbers and good depth. I don't really know the kids yet so with our tryouts I did things by grade. I didn't do it with returning players. We did juniors and seniors one day and freshman and sophomores the next. What I have seen so far I have been pleasantly surprised."

St. John's will, again, be paced by senior defensemen Bryan Nelson (23 points last season), Connor McCann, senior forward Kevin Butler and senior goaltender Mario Pizzeri.

Mead is also counting on senior forward Chris Adams and junior forward Dan Barlock to make their presence felt.

"We'll try to be aggressive on the forecheck and having two men on the puck," Mead said. "The biggest thing for us will be on offense. I feel we are a strong defensive team. I'm going to need some of our seniors to put the puck into the net."

Lancers quest for four: Malden Catholic began its quest for a fourth consecutive Super 8 crown, taking on Springfield Cathedral, another Super 8 qualifier from a year ago.

The Lancers controlled the opening frame, building a 4-1 lead before the Panthers rallied for three unanswered tallies to earn a 4-4 tie in the 2-period scrimmage.

By most people's observations, MC is the prohibitive favorite to claim another Super 8 crown again this season.

Despite the losses of two of their most prolific players (Casey Fitzgerald and Mike Iovanna, who combined for 56 points a year ago), there is still plenty of talent to carry the Lancers again this season. Junior forward Ara Nazarian (26 goals, 24 assists) leads the way. Senior forward Tyler Sifferlen, junior forward Austin Goldstein, sophomore forwards Matt Filipe and Jake Witkowski along with defensemen John McLean, Nick Rolli are solid. As of now, Alex Reissis appears to be the front-runner between the pipes replacing departed Connor Maloney.

"We lost some major contributors but we have a good bunch of younger kids who have come in that should fill those spots fine," MC head coach John McLean said. "The issue is you cannot replace a Casey Fitzgerald (who joined the United States National Team Development Program). He was a special player but the guys that are going to play need to step up.

“As far as our expectations I just worry about the next game. We don't think about the Super 8. Right now we're rolling everyone and everyone is getting to play. When we work we're good and when we don't want to work then we're just average. All that matters is winning the last game of the year. Last year was a long learning curve for us. Hopefully our leaders this year will step it up and take us to the Garden again. We have a lot of good, young strong players. It's just a matter of them gaining the confidence to play at this level."

Against Springfield Cathedral, Sifferlen netted a pair of goals, with Goldstein and Rolli accounting for one apiece.

"I think we have a good group of young core guys on this team," said Nazarian, a UNH commit. "We have good leadership from our older guys. It's a good mix of young and older guys. I think things are looking good so far. There is one goal here and that's to win the whole thing. That is our mindset. We won last year so we know every team we play is going to give us their best so we need to give it our best every game. This is a whole new season so we're just focusing on winning it again and not look back on last year."

Raiders on the rebound: Having reached the third round of last year's Super 8 before falling to St. John's Prep, Central Catholic remains hopeful for another stab at the big dance. Raiders head coach Mike Jankowski is a main reason as to why this program has emerged as a driving force statewide.

With Central everything begins from the net outward. Senior goaltender Colin Soucy, arguably the best high school netminder in the state, will be relied on heavily to get the Raiders back into Super 8 contention.

"We've had a lot of success of late," Jankowski said. "The culture has changed here and we are getting kids coming back from juniors and prep schools and believing in this program and high school. We want kids to enjoy their high school experience here. The schedule we play keeps is very competitive and it keeps our kids engaged and maintains them playing at a high-level. There's nothing like high school hockey in terms of the relationships and friendships the kids build. It's an awesome brotherhood that all teams should experience."

For years, Central often flew under the radar, constantly being overshadowed by other programs. But due to their recent success, that is no longer the case. Jankowski wishes it was not like that but when you win consistently, you now have a target on your back.

"Now, instead of coming in as a dark horse which we like to ride, there is a new expectation level which has been set here but I think we're ready for it," he said. "Colin is back and what he did for us, especially at the end of last year, was remarkable. For the kids to have that confidence in him at his position just gives us that added advantage. The goalie position where it makes a difference in a team's won-loss record. Colin is just a great example of being a great character kid."

Panthers on the prowl: With the loss of two key contributors last year, Springfield Cathedral will be looking to its youthfulness to help them make a return visit to the Super 8. Gone are defenseman Matt Foley and forwards Artie Potter and Dominic Blad. But who returns should play a key role in the Panthers postseason hopes. It all starts with goalie John Liquori. The team's lone senior, Liquori played himself into a top-level talent a year ago. Forwards Peter Crinella (a Holy Cross commit), Johnny Leonard, D.J. Petruzzelli, Cole Foster, Zac Prattson and Riley Prattson will give Cathedral the ammo it needs on offense.

Defense will be a work in progress, but Bryce Peritz, Jordan Tetreault and Cam Griffin return.

Also make note on freshman goaltender Keith Petruzzelli over the next couple of years.

"We've got babies but they're all good," Panthers coach Brian Foley said. "Our first two lines are going to score goals. We had a great first week of practice and you noticed how much they improved in just one week. It'll be fun over time to see how these guys mature this year. I think this will be our most-offensive team that we've had ever. All of those kids did a lot of work on their strength and speed during the off-season. I also think our defense and goaltending will be outstanding as well."

BC High movin’ on: With the loss of all-everything goaltender Peter Cronin, all is not lost at BC High. Brandon Payzant, a sophomore, was Cronin's understudy a year ago and by the looks of things, he appears to be a quick learner after playing solid between the pipes today against St. Mary's of Lynn.

"Brandon was with us last year as a freshman," Eagles coach John Flaherty said. "Obviously he had a great kid to watch and learn from. Peter was great working with Brandon so he now has a year of experience under his belt in practice and being around these guys. Now he is able to get some game experience. He's a good athlete and someone who will be able to step in and carry the load for us. We are also carrying eight defense (spearheaded by Sam Topham) where we hope to find the right combinations in order to keep the puck out of our zone."

On offense, BC High will count on Patrick Kramer (25 points), Steve DeForge, Chris LaLiberte, Tim Larocque, Jake Lemanski and Connor Noonan to work the puck into opposing team's defensive zones.

"We have a lot of experience back," Flaherty added. "It is just now we need guys to play bigger roles for us. Overall we are returning seven defensemen, 11 forwards and one goaltender and most of them have been around for a few years and it is our hope this is the year they blossom."

Hawks a sleeper?: Don't rule out Xaverian as a potential candidate to do some big things this season. Reaching the Division 1 South quarterfinals last season, the Hawks should be a better unit this year in spite of the departures of Eddie Pratt (17 goals last year) and defenseman Mike Brennan. They are led by forwards Antonio Marini (35 points last year), Tim Sweeney (24 points) and Jake Farrell (14). Defensively, Rick Smith and Ryan Walsh will be keys in shutting down opposing offenses.

Shot in the arm for SMH: After spending last season at Brewster Academy, St. Mary's of Lynn head coach Mark Lee was overjoyed learning that goalie Bailey MacBurnie was returning for his senior year.

Two years ago, as a sophomore, MacBurnie secured a 1.38 goals-against-average in helping the Spartans earn a No. 2 seeding in the Super 8 Tournament. With him back in the crease, expect St. Mary's to make another solid postseason run.

"Bailey can certainly be a difference maker for us," Lee said. "I think with this team we are putting a lot of kids in a position to allow them to gain great experience because overall we are a young team. I think we'll get better as the season goes."

With another year under their respective belts, you can look for forwards Jordan Manthorne and Jon Powers, the only two players to reach double digits in scoring last season, to lead to carry this club offensively.

Burlington moves on from repeat: Defending back-to-back Division 1 state champion Burlington will count on its defense to help the Red Devils in their quest for a third state title.

"So far I'm happy with our progress even though it has only been a couple of days," said Burlington head coach and recently-inducted Mass. State Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Conceison. "We have a strong defense and some forward that are young so it will be a work in progress to get our offense going. This is kind of a similar team to last year in that our offense started to come together at the end of the year. It's going to take a while for our offense to gel. We lost some firepower on offense last year (losing C.J. Grinnell and Joe Bernardi) but our defense is back."

The Red Devils also lost goalie Derek DeCastro to graduation and hope to fill the void with senior Mike Guleserian.

The Hall calls: Longtime Hudson head coach Mike Nanartowich will be inducted into the Mass. State Coaches Hall of Fame in May, along with Murphy, Waltham head coach John Maguire and Stoughton front man Dan Mark. Two years removed from his Division 3 state championship triumph over Medway, Nanartowich, now in his 24th season, regards Shrewsbury as the favorite in Central Mass. this year.

The Colonials return a front line of Dan and Jack Quinlivan along with David Belbin. Last season the trio combined to score 125 points. However, never never rule out the possibility for the Hawks at making a serious charge by season's end.

"You still have to go out and show up for every single game," Nanartowich said. "Right now you have to give the edge to Shrewsbury because of the people that they are returning as well as Wachusett and its depth. But at this point, I just think Belbin and the Quinlivan brothers can be the most-dominant line in all of Central Mass. this year. How you take care of their speed and skill requires a lot of game planning. As for us, we will still go out and play everyone straight up like we always do."

In regards to going into the Hall of Fame, Nanartowich remains humble over the selection. He passes the credit over to the players and coaches he has worked with over the years as the reason for the honor.

"I'm going in with a bunch of great guys and guys who have won at a good level," he said. "For me, all that hard work of watching tape, going to various rinks to scout and those commitments you make in the off-season with your team has paid off in winning a state championship and now it has paid off in terms of being recognized by your peers."

Hawks longtime assistant coach Mike Correa added that the honor bestowed on Nanartowich is certainly well-deserved.

"There is probably no one who does more for his players or works harder at preparing kids, not only for the game but life lessons as well, than him," Correa said. "Winning the 2012 state championship is not the reason why he should be in the hall. It is all the dedication he has brought to all the kids who have played in this program over the years which stands out to me."

Recap: No. 7 St. John's (Shrewsbury) 11, No. 23 Grafton 8

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
1:22
AM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- While the Central Mass sectional lacrosse tournament is about a week away, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) head coach Terry Leary thinks his team already has a playoff mentality.

“Our game Saturday against Algonquin [a 7-6 overtime win] and our game against Grafton, we looked at them both as playoff games,” Leary said. “We felt like we needed these two.”

The Pioneers continued the trend on Monday with an 11-8 win over Grafton, ensuring them the top seed in the upcoming tournament.

St. John’s (13-3) used a five-goal run in the late third and early fourth quarters to distance themselves from the Indians (15-3). The depth and balance of the St. John’s attack was on full display on a muggy day in Shrewsbury.

While Grafton leaned heavily on All-American Tyler Reilly, the Pioneers had seven different goal scorers, including three different multi-goal scorers. St. John’s also made it a point to play Grafton midfielder Bryan Rotatori very aggressively, double-teaming the Indians’ other All-American nearly every time he crossed midfield, holding him to only a late goal when the game was out of reach.

“We know a lot of what they do runs through [Rotatori],” Leary said. “We know he likes to look for Tyler [Reilly] cutting, and we know he likes those diagonal passes, so we tried to take those away from him and make him work it around to the other middies.”

On the other side of the field, the Indians attempted to do the same to St. John’s attackman Drew Smiley. While the dodging junior was kept away from the cage the majority of the game, Grafton’s focus on him opened things up for senior attack Hunter Burdick’s hat trick and a pair of goals from Josh Freilich.

Kevin Butler notched his second multi-goal game in his last three games, and fellow middies Connor Long and Patrick Ryan each scored as well. It was a welcome sight for the Pioneers, who have gone from an attack-heavy offense to an increasingly balanced one in the last two weeks.

On defense, senior Aidan Fox stifled Reilly and Rotatori on ground balls all day, and took away numerous breaks launched by Indian goalie Eric Fisher. When the Indians did get good looks, they were often turned away by goalie A.J. Arnold, who robbed five clean Grafton looks.

“He made some great saves,” Leary said of Arnold. “I thought both goalies played pretty well, and A.J. Arnold got us into the late third and we went on that little run.”

Grafton will look to regain a bit of lost momentum against Mid Mass rival Nipmuc — a team the Indians have already beaten 11-0.

As for St. John’s, their gauntlet of tournament caliber games is not over quite yet. The Pioneers will welcome No. 5 Acton-Boxborough to campus this Wednesday before ending their regular season Thursday at home against West Springfield.

Both teams will know their tournament fates before week’s end with the playoff bracket set to be released Friday.
SHREWSBURY, Mass. – When chasing the brass ring of a perfect season, a team needs to hold itself to a higher standard.

Case and point was No. 6 Longmeadow’s 10-8 win over No. 7 St. John’s of Shrewsbury at Pioneer Field on Wednesday. The Lancers remained undefeated, moving to 17-0, but in the postgame, first-year head coach Ryan Liebel was more apt to point to the things his team didn’t do.

“The game was pretty ugly off the bat,” Liebel commented on the nearly instant 3-0 hole Longmeadow dug in the first quarter.

However, the finish is what counts most and the Lancers got the better of the fourth quarter, scoring a string of three goals to round out a two-goal victory.

Senior midfield Eric Barsalou tallied a hat trick while fellow middie Keegan Dudeck tallied the game-winning goal with less than six minutes to play.

“Ball possession was obviously huge and we took advantage of that,” Leibel said.

That advantage was due in no small part to junior midfielder Drew Kelleher, who reached double-digits in the ground ball battle. Also, Longmeadow owned the faceoff X in the second half, winning more than 60 percent of those draws.

“They dominated the faceoffs, it was at least two-to-one, if not more,” St. John’s head coach Terry Leary said. “I think all those extra possessions hurt us.”

The teams went into the half tied, 4-4, before the Lancers again seized the lead with two quick goals to start the third from Barsalou and Max Chipouras. But the back-and-forth continued through the second half. With five lead changes occurring in the game, the Pioneers (11-3) held a lead as late as the 9:55 mark of the fourth quarter, with Kevin Butler’s third goal of the game.

The Lancers again came back to make it a tie game just 34 seconds later on Barsalou’s third before taking the lead for good on Dudeck’s game-winner.

LIFE IN THE MIDDLE

While the tightly contested battle was indicative of what you’d expect from two of the top Division 2 programs in the state this season, and although the Pioneers fell short, there was plenty for St. John’s to take away from Wednesday’s performance.

The biggest positive that Leary saw from his team was offensive production from midfield — namely Butler’s hat trick.

“We have three very dangerous attackmen in [Andrew] Smiley, [Josh] Freilich and [Hunter] Burdick, and typically a majority of our scoring comes from them,” Leary said. “But if teams are collapsing on them, we’ve been working all year to get more and more middie production.”

With both teams heading down the home stretch of their regular-season schedules, there’s reason to believe they could meet again in the not too distant future, in a potential Div. 2 Central/West championship game matchup.

Neither side believed they played their best game under Wednesday’s soggy conditions, but they’ve separated from the pack. Further proof came in Longmeadow’s 16-1 dismantling of Eastern Mass. power Medfield last weekend.

For the first-year Lancers head coach, he’s just enjoying the ride for now. Liebel, a Longmeadow alumnus who played for the program and former head coach at Belchertown, couldn’t ask for a better group that – when it’s all said and done – might be historically good.

“It’s a talented group of players,” he said. “It makes coaching a lot of fun.”

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