Thursday, March 1, 2018

Higgins Stands Tall for Barnstable Hockey against Franklin; Marshfield Tops Duxbury

By Jake Levin (@JakeLevin09)

Buzzards Bay, Mass. — Conor Higgins put together about as solid a freshman season as the Barnstable Red Raiders could have hoped for from their goaltender.

Higgins posted a very respectable 2.36 goals against average, and an .855 save percentage, picking up one shutout during his first year on the varsity. His shutout was an impressive one, against the defending Division 3 State Champion Old Rochester/Fairhaven Bulldogs, but that was in December.

How would he fare against a high-flying Franklin Panthers team that put up 80 goals – sixth most in Division 1 – in the regular season?

Pretty darn well, it turns out. Higgins turned aside all 32 shots he faced to help a Ryan DiPilato first period goal stand up as No. 14 Barnstable (10-8-3) stunned No. 3 Franklin, 1-0, on Wednesday night.

“He’s been playing well all season for us,” Red Raiders head coach Tim Grace said after the game. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start, kind of feeling his way out as a freshman, but he’s been building all season long and he shined tonight.”

It was the first tournament game behind the bench for Grace, who took over at his alma mater prior to the 2015-16 season. Barnstable narrowly missed the tournament that year, but fell to 3-14-4 a season ago.

Back on the big stage with virtually the same roster from a season ago, the Red Raiders ensured their return to the tournament was more than just a one-and-done shot.

“I’m just trying to stay calm and confident and in position,” Higgins said after the game, in which the Panthers (13-6-4) seemed to take a liking to the glove side of the freshman. “I’m just doing everything I can.”

Higgins’s glove, his blocker, his pads and his stick were all firing on all cylinders tonight. Franklin outshot Barnstable in each period, including by a 12-5 margin to set the tone in the first, but was never able to figure out Higgins.

“Definitely,” Higgins said when asked if it helped to get through the first period unscathed in terms of building his confidence. “But if you give up a goal, you’ve just got to stay positive.”

Higgins also had plenty of praise for the defense in front of him, anchored by senior captain Dan Black. Trey Wellbeloved, another senior, logged plenty of minutes on the blue line as well, while the Red Raiders as a whole were relentless in backchecking the Panthers and blocking shots.

The defensemen weren’t the only players going the extra mile for Barnstable. Sophomore Brian Frieh, one of the team’s top offensive playmakers in the regular season, blocked a shot near the beginning of the third period with the Red Raiders clinging tight as ever to their one goal lead. After limping off the ice, he returned for his regular shift as though nothing had ever happened.

“Everything was awesome,” Higgins said. “It was a perfect game.”

Barnstable also killed off four Franklin penalties, not receiving a power play of its own until the waning moments of regulation. It was worth the wait, as the timing forced the Panthers to leave goaltender Owen Ginley between the pipes far longer than they desired.

Ginley was brilliant too for Franklin, making 20 saves on 21 shots. His one miscue came on a deflection, as Brendan Jones uncorked a shot from the right wing half-boards that found the stick of DiPilato in the slot at 6:32 of the first period.

“As a coach, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Grace said. “I knew we’d bring our A-game and the energy would be there, but with Conor just standing on his head like that and for us to lock it down on defense, it was amazing.”

Barnstable will face the No. 6 Marshfield Rams (12-6-5), who won the night cap at Gallo Arena over the No. 11 Duxbury Dragons, 4-0. Kevin Moriarty scored twice for Marshfield, including once on a penalty shot 1:09 into the game, while Nevan Costello pitched a shutout.

Puck drop between the Rams and Red Raiders will be on Saturday at 6 p.m. back at Gallo. Marshfield beat Barnstable in the regular season, 5-4, back on Dec. 16 in Hyannis.

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