Saturday, February 10, 2018

Host Cardinals Capture Pope Francis Invitational

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

West Springfield, Mass. - Rumors that Pope Francis may have hit the proverbial wall can now be laid to rest.

Oh sure, once the calendar flipped over to February, it was evident that the Cardinals were not playing with the same aggressive manor they are accustomed to, after starting the month with a tie and a loss. But the good teams find ways to rebound.

Case in point: On Saturday, in the championship of the Pope Francis Invitational, the Cardinals withstood New Jersey power Delbarton's best punches early, before making the necessary adjustments to emerge victorious in a convincing 3-0 triumph inside the Olympia Ice Center.

For all but one minute of the opening period, Pope Francis could not escape the pressure applied by the Green Wave. Time after time, the Cardinals, with an opposing player in their grill, struggled mightily to move the puck away from their own zone.

"I just think Delbarton came out really hard and we were on our heels a little bit," said Pope Francis head coach Brian Foley.

Yet, in spite of the constant harassment, the 16-time New Jersey state champions failed to take advantage of the opportunities in the first 15 minutes. Down, but certainly not beaten, Pope Francis pulled itself off the mat in the closing moments of the frame. As a result, on the powerplay no less, Makem Demers finished off a game of tic-tac-toe, with linemates Jon Tavella and Max Cocchi, before ripping a shot into an open right side of the net, coming at 14:02, to send the Cardinals into the first intermission on top 1-0.

"That goal was obviously big for us because Delbarton pretty-much controlled the period on us," Foley said. "That was a big difference for us, momentum-wise, during the second and third periods."

Foley was right. That was all the ammunition Pope Francis would need as it proceeded to dominate the remainder of this tilt. Not seen during the initial period, the Cardinals changed up their strategy a bit over the final 30 minutes, relying heavily on a consistent mix of backchecking, forechecking, body checking and speed to run their record to 13-2-3.

The Morristown, New Jersey-based Green Wave, regarded by many as being one of the most dangerous programs yearly in the northeast, and is currently ranked No. 2 according to, had no answers in how to slow down the Cardinals, who were now playing with collective confidence.

Pope Francis initiated the second period by using its legs more which resulted in them generating open ice inside the offensive zone and continuously remaining one step ahead of its adversary. At the other end, the Cardinals were doing an outstanding job lining themselves up between shots and net, blocking several Delbarton bids before they could get to goaltender Victor Larssen.

Just 3:57 into the frame, Cormac Hayes, holding the puck along the right half wall, saw Tavella breaking toward the high slot unopposed. Hayes dished off a perfect feed to his teammate before the a junior one-timed his shot past netminder Kenny Burgess for a 2-0 advantage.

"We kind of came out flat in the first period but we readjusted and we picked things up,'' said Tavella, who recorded a hat trick as part of Pope Francis' 7-4 win over Bishop Hendricken (RI) in Friday night's opening round, and was named tournament MVP. "Our whole team played great today. We just needed something to pick us up again. Last night's win and this win certainly helped us do that. I think we are heading in the right direction now. We all have a role on this team and we all try to help one another out and pick each other up."

For the remainder of the middle period, it was Pope Francis dictating the tempo at both ends of the ice. The Cardinals never stopped peppering Burgess (18 saves), sending 10 attempts the senior's way, but only settled for the one tally.

Obviously, everything would now come down to the final period. Pope Francis knew the Green Wave (16-6-1) would not go quietly into the night. Throwing schemes out the window, Delbarton, who reached this tilt after upending Fairfield Prep (CT) the previous night, came out resilient in its attempts to push the puck quickly up ice in an effort to crawl back into it. With 6:41 to go, a Green Wave goal was disallowed after officials ruled the puck had been kicked in.

Noticeably frustrated, Delbarton failed to register another quality attempt the rest of the way. With a defensive mindset now in place, the Cardinals refused to allow the Green Wave to get anywhere near Larssen, who only needed to make 9 stops on the afternoon. Not focusing as much to add to its total, Pope Francis still found lanes open once it passed over the red line. Cocchi could not resist the temptation when he had the puck on his stick down low. At 11:43, Cocchi was left all alone just below the right circle. From a difficult angle, the junior ricochet a shot off the back of Burgess and into the net to close this one out.

"I told our kids that this probably the best team we will play all year," Foley said. "It was really nice to see us get a shutout against that team. Team defense is something we've been struggling with so to get a shutout against a top program like that is really great to see. The kids were committed to being in the shot lanes and make blocks and I thought they did a very good job with that. That's the effort you need to win against a quality team like that."

Hawks rebound for a tie

Down by a pair of goals in the latter stages of the third period, Bishop Hendricken rallied back for a pair of scores during the final six minutes to earn a 5-5 tie against Fairfield Prep in the consolation contest.

Goals by Mike Boscia and Providence College commit Brett Berard erased the Jesuits' hopes for a victory.

However, with just 19 seconds showing, Fairfield Prep's Mason Whitney stole the puck from inside his own blue line and skated in alone on Bishop Hendricken netminder Patrick Colburn. A hard wrist shot was snagged by the sophomore to help secure the deadlock.

The Hawks, the defending two-time Rhode Island Division 1 state champs, now stand at 9-7-2. After starting the year having won their first 13 games, the Jesuits, the top-rated club in Connecticut, fall to 13-1-1.

Forward Matt Dumond accounted for a pair of Bishop Hendricken goals. Shawn Catala also had a score. Fairfield Prep was paced by Carter Kral's two tallies. Joe Mancini and Ryan Eckert each contributed one goal. Back on December 28th, the Jesuits picked up a 3-2 overtime victory over the Hawks during the Mt. St. Charles Holiday Face Off Tournament.

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