Thursday, January 4, 2018

Central Catholic Hockey Blanks Austin Prep

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

Salem, NH - Only seven games into this season, and Bill Pappas has joined a long list of hockey coaches who have reached that proverbial fork in the road.

The first year Austin Prep skipper has already been fitted for his hard hat as he tries to repair what currently ails his Cougars. Austin Prep has now lost two of its last three games, including Wednesday night’s 3-0 shutout at the hands of Central Catholic inside the Icenter.

“Talk is cheap right now,” said Pappas. “We have a good group and kids that work very hard. But I think it is time to take some responsibility from everybody, and for them to start looking at themselves. The season is moving very quickly and I think they need to make some better decisions. We know it is a process but we don’t want to start that process too late.”

The Cougars (4-3) have had their share of difficulty against some of the upper-echelon programs thus far, with losses coming against Pope Francis, St. Mary’s (Lynn) and now Central Catholic. They did manage to salvage a triumph over Malden Catholic in last week's Christie Serino Christmas Classic. However, early on, this has not been one of the stronger Lancer programs on record.

Facing the Raiders, Austin Prep was able to dictate much of the tempo throughout the opening period by putting a number of quality chances on goaltender Matt Pasquale but to no avail. Pasquale, regarded by most as being the top netminder in the state, continued his majestry between the pipes as he stopped shot after shot before finishing with 24 saves.

Following a scoreless opening frame, the Cougars continued to test the waters inside the Central Catholic zone but continued to fail in their attempts of slipping anything past the junior.

“I felt they were better than us in that first period,” Raiders first-year coach Kim Brandvold said. “I think sometimes we rely on our goalie too much and we expect him to be good. But sometimes we need to be punched in the mouth in order to wake up. We want to change that course of direction and for us to start taking control of games a lot quicker.”

Much like their outing against St. John’s Prep last Saturday, the Raiders began slow and looked sloppy at times inside the defensive zone, committing several turnovers. However, later in the second period, they finally started to find a groove.

Central Catholic (6-0) started to create some space within the attacking zone. Able to find some open lanes to pass to.

Finally, at 13:43 of the frame, senior forward Eric Lester put the Raiders on the board by pushing in a loose puck, in front of the crease, underneath Austin Prep goalie Robert Farrell for a 1-0 lead. Then, just 33 seconds later, Owen Fowler, holding onto the puck in the upper slot, waited for Farrell (22 saves) to commit low before unleashing a hard wrist shot to an open right side of the net for a two goal advantage.

“We didn’t have a good first period,” said Fowler, a freshman. “I thought in the last five or so minutes of the second we started to come out flying. We finally got some stuff rolling and were able to pop one in than another one soon after. We are a team that wants to play fast and physical all the time. We also know that Matt is capable of saving us at anytime. If we ever mess up we know he will be there for us. However, we cannot rely on him all the time.”

With momentum clearly now in the Raiders’ favor, the objective over the final period was the tighten things in their defensive zone. The Cougars barely registered a ripple during final 15 minutes, looking more like a team that had zero chance of rallying against Pasquale.

“I thought during the second half of the second period we started to take over,” Brandvold said. “I think some of the life was starting to go out of their team a bit and that seemed to continue in the third. Fortunately for us, we were willing to go to the net and it paid off for us.”

With under a minute remaining, Farrell was pulled for the extra attacker despite Austin Prep defenseman Aidan Elkins in the box for roughing. That, in turn, allowed for Noah Jankowski to tally an easy power play empty net goal with just 22 seconds left to close the book on this one.

“Central is a great team that is going places,” said Pappas. “They are very well-coached and are position-wise sound. They move the puck very well. For us, (center) J.J. Harding (wrist) got hurt tonight which changed our strategy some. Him being hurt could be a big blow to us but now some other kids are going to have step up and do the right thing. We'll see what happens.”

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