Thursday, January 25, 2018

Pope Francis Continues Hot Start with Win over St. John's (Shrewsbury)

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

Marlborough, Mass. - Clinging to a one goal after two periods, Pope Francis thought it had finally pulled away from a much-improved St. John's (Shrewsbury) squad after registering back-to-back goals early in the third.

However, both tallies were dis-allowed when game officials cited that the net had been loosened from its moorings on both occasions.

Being the veteran, and well-disciplined, team the Cardinals are, the frustration of seeing two scores wiped clean never seemed to faze them. Sure they were frustrated, but it never showed. Instead, Pope Francis simply regrouped and continued to play its attacking style.

Eventually, that would pay dividends.

Only a handful of moments later, the Cardinals found the back of the net twice (both legitimate this time) within a span of 14 seconds, propelling them to a 5-2 Catholic Conference West victory over the Pioneers Wednesday night at New England Sports Center.

Senior forward Brendan Nehmer's five-hole tally (his team leading 23rd), was quickly followed up by second line junior Tyler Wilson's second goal of the evening which spelled the difference as the Cardinals improve to 11-1-2.

"That was a good response with us getting those two goals after the previous two were dis-allowed," said Pope Francis head coach Brian Foley. "Even though those first two goals were disallowed we were starting to gain momentum and we knew we could get pucks past their goalie. It was good to see us get those two that counted soon after."

Since 2011, Pope Francis, formerly known as Springfield Cathedral, has held a stranglehold over its division rival. Following this latest triumph, the Cardinals/Panthers are now 11-0-3 against the Pioneers during that span.

The third period was all Pope Francis as it put up 13 shots, finishing with 36 for the contest. After a Nick Palermo powerplay score at 8:39 brought St. John's back to within a pair, the deficit proved too much to over come as Max Cocchi wristed in an empty net goal with under two minutes remaining to put a capper on this one.

"After we got those two goals called off we knew we had to do something," Wilson said. "Coach Foley called us in and told us to stay focused and keep playing our game. We just went back out there and did what we did. We are a team that rolls out four lines because we have guys here who can play. Everyone on this team can score or make a big play. It's not just one or two players."

The Cardinals have now six straight, including their second triumph against St. John's in the span of a week. Last Thursday, they came away with a one goal victory in West Springfield.

Much like the first meeting, the Pioneers (7-3-3) gave Pope Francis all kinds of fits during the first 30 minutes. Undoubtedly, this is the most talented unit they have had under head coach Mike Mead's five year tenure here. Unlike previous seasons when individualism took center stage, this year's club is playing with a lot more cohesiveness. It certainly showed early on versus the Cardinals.

"We have a good group of kids who battle for one another but it just wasn't our night tonight," said Mead. "It's been a good group to coach but we still have a lot of work to do. We are playing as a complete team this year. We have three solid lines, some very good defense and goaltenders. That has been the big difference this year. But we still need to learn how to finish against the top teams in the state. Tonight we got it to within a goal but we have to figure out a way to finish in the third period. I think we will get there."

St. John's took chances by attacking the Pope Francis zone regularly, and getting into the Cardinals' grill down at the other end of the ice. During the early stages they were doing a nice job of not allowing the Cardinals to create much space, especially inside the neutral zone.

It took a little while before Pope Francis was able to adapt to St. John's strategy. But in the closing minutes of the openingt period the Cardinals did just that.

Wilson got Pope Francis on the board at the 11:02 mark after tipping in a nice crossing feed from Logan Cognac. Three minutes later, on the powerplay, the Cardinals went up two goals after Jon Tavella managed to push a loose puck past Pioneers goalie Corey Splaine inside the crease. Tavella, a junior, also had three assists.

Splaine, a senior, played solidly throughout, making several outstanding saves to keep his team in it.

Things would settled down some in the middle frame. The Pioneers, along with Splaine, were keeping Pope Francis' highly-touted offense in relative check. That, in turn, resulted in St. John's, playing with the man-advantage, to finally slip a puck past Cardinals netminder Victor Larssen (18 saves). Will Horrigan found himself in the right spot to knock in a rebound and send his team into the second intermission trailing 2-1.

But as we have come to expect from Pope Francis, a regular Super 8 contender, they are a squad capable of turning up the heat at any given time. It just so happened on this night it came in the final frame as the first nine shots on goal belonged to them, with two of them finding the back of the net. After that, there was little St. John's could do in retaliation.

"We have been working very hard in practice on our conditioning," Foley said. "We always hope to make the third period our best period. These last two games (including Saturday's win against Andover) we saw that. I think our conditioning is finally starting to pay off. Hopefully we keep that up."

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