Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pope Francis Blows out Hingham to Advance to Super 8 Final

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

Lowell, Mass. - The ghosts of the past have finally been exorcised.

Since 2009, the Pope Francis hockey team (Cathedral High School in Springfield) has been a yearly fixture in the Super 8 tournament, either as a play-in team or a bonafide seed. Yet, throughout that time frame, this team has never quite been able to get over the hump, continuously coming up short in its quest to reach the championship game.

All of that now can be laid to rest.

With its convincing 6-0 victory over Hingham in Wednesday night's semifinal contest, the Cardinals have finally gained entry into the title tilt. No. 7 Pope Francis (21-4-3) will face No. 2 BC High (18-4-1) on Sunday for all the marbles at TD Garden at a time still to be determined. The Eagles are 2-0-1 versus the Cardinals this season, including a 6-1 whitewashing in the tournament's opening round.

As this club as proven throughout the season, the Cardinals, playing out of the loser's bracket since that loss to BC High, continue to spread the wealth as six different players found the back of the net. All of which coming over the final two periods. After playing the initial frame with little conviction, and surviving an early 5-on-3 opportunity by the Harbormen, Pope Francis finally turned its game up a few decibels coming out for the middle frame as they notched four unanswered goals to put this one away.

Despite managing seven of their overall 29 shots during the opening frame, few would be considered quality chances, as No. 4 Hingham (14-6-6) was resilient inside the attacking zone, forcing Pope Francis to make a number of errant decisions with the puck due to some solid poke checking play.

"In the first period I thought Hingham came out hard and we know they're a tough team to play against," said Pope Francis coach Brian Foley. "I think our kids were a little nervous during that first period in seeing how hard Hingham was playing. But our skill came through in the second and third periods. We got some nice goals off of some great shots. We do have depth on this team and it is nice to see a lot of guys stepping up in this tournament. These kids are playing really hard."

Things did change dramatically for the Cardinals entering the second. Just 2:32 in, junior center Tyler Wilson gained control of a rebound off the back dasher and slipped a shot past Harbormen senior goaltender Robbie Kornack, who was improperly out of position in his attempt to get back into the crease area. Just 5:55 later, with Logan Dapprich in the penalty box for elbowing, Pope Francis would flex its muscle short-handed. Trevor Crawford, from the right half wall, lined a shot into the net as, once again, Kornack found himself out of position to make the save, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 advantage.

"Tonight leaves a sour taste but these kids will get over it quickly," said Hingham coach Tony Messina, whose club reached this point in the tournament despite graduating 17 players from a year ago. "This team was great and there is a lot to be proud of. Pope Francis are like caged animals. They are very talented and very skilled. If you give them a second to think about it or make a play, they'll put it away on you. We knew we had to be perfect and concise tonight but I felt we gave them a little too much space here and there. Then things just multiplied. Our guys never gave up but it was just an avalanche of issues happening."

Things did continue to multiply for the Harbormen as Pope Francis was now brooding with unabridged  confidence. Playing with the man-advantage, Makem Demers, at 10:52, fired a hard wrist shot past Kornack from the right circle, pushing the deficit to three goals. It was the junior's 22nd marker of the season. Two minutes later, with both teams back to even strength, Max Cocchi, as part of a 3-on-1 break inside the offensive zone, went top shelf over Kornack and send the Cardinals into the second intermission well in-command up by four goals.

"We just worked on getting the puck deep and working the corners," Demers said. "We grinded and got the win. That's all we wanted. We all come out and do our jobs. There is nothing more you can ask out of this team."

Kornack, who has been stellar all season for the offensively-challenged Harbormen (63 goals on the season), had his worst game of the season by allowing six goals on 26 shots. Late in the third he would be replaced by Aaron Richardson. But before being lifted, Pope Francis was not finished taking care of business inside the offensive zone. Junior Jon Tavella, who has been a major catalyst throughout this tournament, continued his offensive production early in the third.

Skating down the right side, the winger rang a shot off the far goal post and in, extending the lead to 5-0. With Hingham now a playing bit fazed and severely frustrated, senior Jacob King would unleash a missle shot from the left point, just 19 seconds later, to put the Cardinals ahead by a half dozen. Hingham, which last won the Super 8 crown in 2010, finished with 22 shots. All of which were nullified by junior netminder Victor Larssen, who celebrated his 17th birthday in grand style.

"It is a great birthday," quipped Larssen. "Stopping that 5 on 3 early was a big part of this game. If they had scored during that then this could've been a totally different game. Now we need to continue to play hard on Sunday and want it more than them. We really need to play good defense against them."

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