Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lowell Catholic Shoots Past Scituate for a D2 State Title

By Tom Joyce (@TomJoyceSports)

BOSTON - If you were nitpicking, you could say that the Lowell Catholic boys’ hockey team (20-2-2) did not capitalize on enough 2-on-1 chances in the Division 2 State Championship game at TD Garden on Sunday afternoon.

The Crusaders did, however, capitalize on their most important 2-on-1 opportunity. Specifically, Nathan Donaldson set Alex Graves up for a game-winning score on a 2-on-1 chance with 1:06 remaining in the game. Graves put it past the Scituate Sailor (22-3-1) goaltender, giving his team the go-ahead goal in their 5-4 state title win.

“I was coming in on the goalie,” Graves said, reflecting on his game-winner. “I didn’t know if I was going to fake to my backhand, but I saw the top-right corner and I decided to go for it and it just happened to go in.”

The Crusaders were the top seed in Div. 2 North while the Sailors were the South’s top seed.

“We knew what they could do,” Crusaders head coach Thomas Curran said of the Sailors. “They skate three lines and have a lot of talented kids, we had that neutral zone trap going and that gave us some chances. The kids did a good job of following what we asked them to do.”

The Sailors, who piled up 135 goals over the season, attacked first.

About three-and-a-half minutes into the contest, Shane Comeau flipped one into the back of the net on an odd-man rush, putting the Sailors up 1-0.

Shortly thereafter, Graves whizzed a screaming line drive into the back of the Sailors net for the Crusaders, tying the game at one apiece. Mika Kulbis-Marino and Michael Andrea had assists on the score.

The Crusaders took hold of the lead 5:03 into the second period. Donaldson quickly slapped in a goal from near the blue line after receiving the puck from Kulbis-Marino who won a faceoff in Sailors territory.

Mitchell Andrea doubled the Crusaders lead with 7:02 remaining in the second. With no defensemen in front of him by the time he put up his shot, he was able to score to put his team up 3-1.

Headed into the third period, it appeared as though the Crusaders would skate to an easy win. That simply did not happen.

Four minutes into the period, Liam Walsh buried a second chance scoring opportunity off a Matt Loud shot and two minutes later, Cam Francis scored off a deflection on a power play. Francis’ goal tied the game at three apiece.

The Crusaders briefly regained the lead with 7:20 remaining when Connor Doherty broke past a band of Sailors defenders and slapped the puck in from the left side.

Once again, the Sailors tied the game up about a minute later. This time, Ben Smith netted his team’s fourth goal of the day on a breakaway.

This is just the ninth season for Lowell Catholic’s hockey program. Less than a decade ago, they started out with eight skaters and a goaltender practicing on half a sheet of ice at the now-defunct Ice Hut in Dracut. Over the years, however, the team has progressed immensely, and it didn't take Curran long this year to figure out his team was special.

“It sounds a little cocky, but I told the kids at the end of the first week ‘this is the most talented Lowell Catholic team,’” Curran said. “'I don’t know if we’ll have the most success, but if we listen and work together as a team, we can go as far as you can go.’ Would I have bet on it? No. But I knew we were as good as anyone in Div. 2 North.”

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