FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- There is no denying the team Dan Connolly bore witness to on Sunday night was the one he has been patiently waiting for.
The Marshfield head coach knew his team had the talent but just one week into the regular season, the Rams were still in search of an identity. Perhaps now they have found one.
On the strength of two first-period goals, along with a suffocating defense and some talented goaltending, Marshfield was able to fend off St. John's (Shrewsbury), 2-1, to capture the CCM High School Hockey Classic (formerly known as the Silverback Classic) at Loring Arena.
"We said all along that we needed to dictate the pace of play," said Connolly, his team now at 1-3-1. "We told the kids don't let them get ahead of us, try to control the puck and get it into their zone and try to forecheck the heck out of them. I thought we did a good job of that and our defense did a real good job of throwing pucks back down the ice once we got it."
The Rams, who often ran out a pair of sophomores and a pair of freshmen on defense, show no signs of inexperience as they continuously collapsed the zone once the Pioneers entered it, forcing St. John's into experiencing tremendous difficulty maneuvering the puck once past the red line. When the Pioneers were able to field shots, junior goalie Grayson Owens became a stonewall, stopping 23 of 24 attempts.
"I'm new here so I'm still trying to get use to the swing of things with the team because I hadn't played varsity before," Owens said. "We knew St. John's would be a tough opponent and hopefully we can now pick it up and have this kind of confidence in every game we play. I was pretty nervous tonight but my defense really helped me out."
Owens' highlight moments came midway through the third period. With Marshfield still holding onto its two-goal lead, the Pioneers were given back-to-back power play opportunities. St. John's rifled shots at Owens from all points of the ice in its desperation to get back into this contest. But Owens managed to swat them aside with relative ease.
After defeating Catholic Memorial in overtime the night before, the Pioneers appeared listless to begin Sunday’s tilt. They turned the puck over inside the neutral zone often and allowed the Rams to control the tempo.
That would eventually lead to Marshfield's first tally of the night when junior forward Nevan Connors blistered a shot past Matt Mongeau at 4:25 of the frame. The Rams continued with their up-tempo style for the remainder of the period, keeping Mongeau busy between the pipes. However, they only had the one goal in hand.
But in the closing minute, St. John's Pat Storer was whistled for a cross check. With only seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, the Rams capitalized on their man-advantage chance as junior Hunter McCauley pushed back a rebound and a two score lead.
"It was a slow start by us and our guys weren't ready," Pioneers head coach Mike Mead said. "That's my fault because I have to make sure they are prepared for every game. I'm going to assume that I didn't have them ready to play tonight. Marshfield did a great job dumping the puck deep into our zone and we tried to get a little to individualized by trying to carry it out of our zone.
“This is a team game and you have to rely on your teammates. When you try to play individually, it is a tough game to play by yourself. This was a game we had hope to have and we didn't play well at the start. We played OK afterwards but hopefully we learned something and now we move on."
Handcuffing the Pioneers at both ends of the ice, the offense took a backseat in the Rams strategy. The way this team was checking and moving the puck away from its zone, Marshfield stayed the course in its continued efforts to frustrate the Pioneers.
With less than a minute to be played, St. John's, with Mongeau pulled for the extra man, cut into the deficit thanks to Matt Negrotti's score with 41 seconds on the clock. But it came too little, too late as Pioneers (1-4-1) could draw no closer.
"We have some growing pains but the kids are starting to learn and starting to gain confidence," said Connolly, who reached the title game following an overtime win over Framingham on Saturday. "The kids kept things simple and made smart plays. We did a nice job keeping St. John's to the outside which gave Grayson a lot of chances to see the shots. He played a great game for us."
CM rebounds in consolation: Framingham head coach Paul Spear knew for his club to have a legitimate shot against Catholic Memorial, the Flyers needed to play disciplined.
Unfortunately for Spear, Framingham was anything but as it made a constant beeline to the penalty box all night lone. The result was four power play goals by the Knights as they cruised to a 9-3 victory in the consolation tilt.
"You go into the penalty box and you are going to lose to this team," Spear said. "When you go into the penalty box like we did, you might as well just put a point on the board for them. We made it easy for them in a variety of ways tonight. You have to keep your game tight against teams like this because if you don't then you deserve to lose and tonight we deserved to lose."
CM (3-1-1) led 1-0 after the first period on a Paul Hardiman unassisted goal. In the middle frame, things took an ugly turn for the Flyers (2-1-2). Early on, the Knights netted a pair of man advantage goals by Zach Sullivan and Harrison Morrill to up the lead to 3-0. Later in the period, Sullivan, a senior forward, ripped a hard wrist shot past Jason McCarthy, putting CM on top by four.
"It was tough to lose last night in overtime but our coach (Bill Hanson) spoke to us before the game telling us how we needed to become more in sync as a team," said Sullivan. "We did that and we just went out there and killed it tonight. My linemates Gunnar McKenzie and Harry Morrill set me up all night by giving me good passes and fortunately my shots went in.”
Less than two minutes later, Billy Czar scored off a turnover to make it a 5-0 affair. Framingham got one back late in the period on Scott Swennes' power play tally.
Just 1:02 into the third, Scott Hall redirected a shot past Knights goalie Brandon Collett bringing the Flyers to within four goals.
However, the momentum off of that score didn't last. Another Framingham penalty put CM back on the power play which led to Kevin Curley's lone range marker at 12:56.
The floodgates opened soon thereafter with Aaron Clancy, McKenzie and Anthony Panaggio (shorthanded) all finding the back of the net. Patrick Lavin would score a power play goal in the final minute for the Flyers.
With just five seconds to go, Knights freshman Shane Murphy took a nasty hit into the boards behind the Framingham net. Murphy was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital with his condition unknown.