NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – It is one of those rare occasions where you hope to see an encore performance some time down the road.
Dexter Southfield and Brooks School gave everyone in attendance a memorable performance Friday night inside Brooks Arena, clamoring for more. With both hockey programs duking it out in their attempts to reserve a spot in next month's New England Prep School championship tournament, neither disappointed.
Trailing by a goal late in the third period, Dexter forward Matt Brazel was the recipient of some solid puck control inside the Brooks end of the ice. The senior, positioned inside the left circle, took a backward feed Sam D'Antuono and rifled a shot under right arm of Bishops' goaltender Max Prawdzik at 12:31 to deadlock this tilt.
Brazel's tally would induce a five-minute overtime period in which nothing was settled, resulting in a 1-1 final.
"We had our chances and worked hard for three periods and in overtime," said Bishops head coach Dave Ries. "I thought our kids came out and got off to a pretty good start. For a lot of the first two periods we had some very good chances but their goalie made some big saves. In the third, they started taking it to us but (Prawdzik) stood on his head when he needed to.”
Dexter, which lost to Kimball Union Academy in last year's Piatelli/Simmons (Small School) title game, continues in its quest in becoming a viable candidate for another trip to the postseason with a record of 11-5-5. Brooks, which also lost to KUA in last year's semifinal round, is a virtual playoff lock, sporting a mark of 13-1-4. The possibility of these two clubs meeting up again remains a distinct possibility depending on the seedings.
Should that occur, then you can expect another edge-of-your-seat thriller yet again. Brooks will be in search of its second prep crown in three years. In 2013, the Bishops defeated Kent's Hill School to claim its only Piatelli/Simmons championship.
Brooks seized control over the opening two periods, yet could only account for the one goal going into the second intermission.
Dexter realized it had dodged a major bullet thanks, in part, to the sturdiness of its goaltender Nick Lanni. The senior was brilliant between the pipes, stopping 28 of 29 shots. During the course of the first 36 minutes, Lanni was tested often yet held down the fort by making 24 saves to keep his team in range.
"Our defense played great tonight," said Lanni, who plans to play baseball at Fairfield University next year. "I am extremely grateful to have such a great team in front of me. All around it was a great effort tonight. We are a team that battles through adversity. We may not have all the talent in the world but we will work harder than you all the time. That's what it is all about. We are a team that doesn't rebuild. We reload."
After playing one step behind for most of the first two frames, Dexter would turn the tables in the third. Showing a more aggressive style in the offensive end, Dexter continuously worked the puck into the Brooks zone, firing off shots from all angles on Prawdzik. But the senior, like his counterpart, held his ground in the crease and was able to maintain the one goal advantage.
Later in the frame, Dexter's offensive prowess finally caught up with Prawdzik. With the Bishops playing back on their heels a bit, Dexter was allowed to maneuver the puck along the perimeter. Brazel found his spot inside the circle and waited for D'Antuono's backdoor pass. With the defense moving toward D'Antuono's direction, it gave Brazel enough space to get a clear shot off. Prawdzik was late in trying to deflect the puck with his stick as it sailed past him and into the back of the net.
With nothing finalized in regulation, both teams tried willingly to end the tilt in overtime. Just 30 seconds in, D'Antuono, a senior, had a golden chance to close this one out but his shot from in between the circles rang off the post.
With just 38 seconds showing, Dexter caught a break after Boston College commit Connor Moore was whistled for tripping. With a limited power play opportunity, Dexter put up two quality attempts on net, but Prawdzik (29 saves) was able to turn both aside, keeping the contest tied.
With 1.4 remaining, things got a bit heated. Two players from each team were escorted off the ice for excessive clutching and shoving. The final second ticked off with both clubs skating off even.
"It was a great game and I thought our kids played really well," Dexter head coach Dan Donato said. "We really went after it in the third period. We decided to change the forecheck system that we were using. I thought we really poured on the pressure in the third. I want to make sure that we get hot at the right time. We aren't pouring shots into the net yet but I feel we have played better as a team over these last two to three weeks. If the pucks do start going into the net, I think we'll be a dangerous team down the stretch."
Following a scoreless opening period in which the Bishops failed to capitalize on a minute long 5-on-3 advantage, the situation changed dramatically in their favor early in the second.
Being persistent in its puck movement, Brooks finally saw things come to fruition at 3:15. With D'Antuono in the box for tripping, Sacred Heart University-bound Vito Bavaro ripped a shot from just outside the right circle. With the Bishops collapsing to the net, junior forward Henry Cormier got enough of his stick on Bavaro's shot to redirect it past Lanni for a 1-0 lead.
"Vito did a good job getting the puck on net low and our guys work hard on going to the net," Ries said. "Cormier got there with his stick on the ice and put it in. When you have guys going to the net hard and guys getting pucks there, you are going to get some goals.
“I thought Max did a great job for us and slowed things down at the right points during the game. He has really stepped up his game to another level for us."
For a while, it appeared as though Brooks' one-goal lead would stand.
However, Dexter knew it was given life by not getting blown out over the first two periods. They managed to take full advantage by the third, thanks to Brazel and the large presence of Lanni in goal.
"Nick has been a warrior for us," said Donato. "This team loves him. He may not be the most stylistic [goaltender] but he certainly finds ways to stop the puck with his head, his back or whatever he needs to do. We are very fortunate to have him.”