Friday, February 23, 2018

Central Catholic captures Cardinal Classic; Pope Francis Wins Consolation Game

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

West Springfield, Mass. - Can we finally put to rest the debate over who the best goaltender in the state is?

Argue all you want, if you choose. But truth be told, there is nobody more deserving of that honor than Matt Pasquale. Once again, the Central Catholic netminder was stellar between the pipes, as he bailed his team out by stopping 26 shots en route to a thrilling 1-0 victory over Malden Catholic in Thursday night's title tilt of the Cardinal Classic, played inside the Olympia Ice Center.

For Pasquale, a junior, the shutout was his ninth of the season and, in the process, he lowered his goals-against-average to an astounding 0.63.

Pasquale proved early and often that he was up for the challenge against a Lancers club playing desperate hockey. Time and time again, Malden Catholic (8-9-3) had quality opportunities turned away in its quest to secure a 20th point and claim a spot in the upcoming Division 1 postseason tournament. But all was for naught as Pasquale continued to be a wall inside the crease.

"I try to do the same routine every day," said Pasquale. "But it always helps when my teammates are pulling in the same direction as me. We all have the same mindset during every game. My defense and forwards played great in front of me tonight. It is always a total team effort here. It is never about a single person. It's about everyone. That is why we are having success right now. We know we are a good team but we still need to keep pushing. Right now we are putting the regular season behind us and getting ready for a new season once the (Super 8) tournament begins."

After giving up a goal late in the second period, Malden Catholic, with a nothing to lose attitude, came out for the final frame intent on storming the gates. With just 43 seconds remaining, the Lancers thought they had tied the game with a poke in just in front of the crease. However, game officials cited the puck never crossed the goal line which only added to Malden Catholic's frustration.

Had the goal been awarded, chances are this contest would have resulted in a regulation tie, followed by a short overtime period and possible shootout to determine a victor. In tournament play, if two teams end up in a tie following regulation, then a point is awarded to both. Had that occurred, the Lancers would have received enough points to qualify for the playoffs. Instead, the most-dominant high school hockey program of the last decade, sees its season come to a close.

A team that had difficulty finding an identity over the first half of the year, started to come on strong late and put themselves in contention for a postseason berth. Predominantly led by a number of underclassmen, and if all return next year, it is same to assume the Lancers will be in the hunt for a Super 8 berth in 2019.

The level of play, by its youth movement, continued to make serious strides as the season progressed. Freshmen and sophomores were not playing like wide-eyed adolescents once the first of the year rolled around. From the beginning of January up until now, Malden Catholic went 9-6-2 to put itself in the running for a playoff spot.

"This is a tough one to swallow," Lancers coach John McLean said. "But overall, our kids played pretty good tonight and competed right to the end. Whether that shot was in or out I don't know. But we put ourselves in that position. I think the future looks bright for us. If everyone comes back we should be pretty good next year."

Against the Raiders, the Lancers dominated the opening period as they put eight shots on Pasquale. Malden Catholic was doing a nice job finding open areas of the ice once it reached the offensive zone. Yet its attempts continued to be nullified by Pasquale. That scenario continued into the middle frame as the Lancers remained the aggressor with nothing to show from it.

"Overall, I thought we played well," said McLean. "There were a couple of spurts where we got tired but other than that we had a bunch of chances. Their goalie was outstanding. If they didn't have him I think we would have had a pretty good chance of winning this game."

With this tilt remaining scoreless as time ticked down in the period, Central Catholic, unable to solve Malden Catholic goalie Kevin Burkett (13 saves) finally got the break it was looking for. A face off from the left circle, inside the the Lancers' zone, resulted in talented center Noah Jankowski winning the draw. The puck came off of the junior's stick and skidded directly toward Burkett. The sophomore was able to stop the puck but could not wrap it up. That allowed Raiders sophomore Jack Gray, closing in on Burkett, to slip the rebound between the pads for a 1-0 lead, coming at 13:07.

"I think both the games we played here this week were like Super 8 games," Central Catholic coach Kim Brandvold said. "When you trust your goalie to make timely saves, and lots of them, it creates an ability to make plays at the other end of the rink. Because of that, you aren't worried so much about scoring."

Early in the third, Malden Catholic had a pair of golden opportunities to tie this tilt, including a laser shot by Ryan Noonan from the high slot that Pasquale dove for and gloved. All throughout the final frame, it was the Lancers who were pushing the envelope offensively. Over the final 15 minutes, they sent 11 shots Pasquale's way to no avail as Central Catholic (21-1) heads into the Super 8 a highly-confident group. The Raiders sole focus is to change history once the tournament begins. Last year they lost an overtime battle versus Arlington in the championship game.

"I felt Malden Catholic played very hard all throughout this game," Brandvold said. "They did everything right. For us to knock them out of the playoffs was a good job on our part. I thought we battled hard, our defense was pinching them and our goalie played great again. Hopefully we can keep it going."

Pope Francis Holds On

After bowing to Central Catholic in Wednesday night's opening round, Pope Francis, led by junior Makem Demers' two goals and one assist, rebounded nicely with a stellar 3-2 triumph over St. Mary's (Lynn) in the consolation game. In a physical and highly-volatile affair, the Cardinals (16-3-3) erupted for three goals in the second period which carried them to victory.

After a scoreless opening frame, it was the Spartans (12-6-4) who struck first. Just 2:34 into the second period, Coldin Reddy lifted a backhanded shot past goaltender Victory Larssen's short side for a 1-0 lead. Just two minutes later, back came the Cardinals. Cycling the puck well inside the attacking zone, Demers sent a hard wrist shot between St. Mary's netminder Kevin McMullen's pads to knot the contest. Later in the period, Demers took a nice give and go pass from Trevor Crawford before beating McMullen with a quick backhand tally to put Pope Francis ahead 2-1.

But the lead lasted less than a minute once Tom Cash, dangling the puck from the high slot, converted a spinorama through traffic which snuck by Larssen (20 saves) to even things.

Following the score, things got a bit chippy. Pope Francis senior defenseman Ryan Crawford enforced a vicious crosscheck to St. Mary's freshman Brady Carpenter in the throat area resulting in a disqualification. It took a while before Carpenter, with the help of his teammates, to finally able to get to his feet and skate off the ice.

Once normalcy returned, the Cardinals caught the Spartans defense a bit off-guard which led to junior Jon Tavella, taking a nice stretch pass from Demers, to cut in alone on McMullen and beat the senior, giving Pope Francis the lead for good at 10:13. McMullen finished with 19 stops.

Later in the period, St. Mary's was given a 5 on 3 opportunity but could not convert. Coming out for the third, Pope Francis stuck to a formidable defensive plan in which it forced the Spartans to skate out along the edges and deny them any point-blank chances on Larssen which ended up working perfectly.

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