Monday, March 12, 2018

Pope Francis Lives to Fight Another Day, Eliminates St. John's Prep from Super 8

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

Lowell, Mass. - The premise to withstand the pressure-cooker environment of the Super 8 tournament is that you want to be playing your best hockey during the postseason.

Certainly, Pope Francis is doing that.

As they continue to scratch and claw their way from avoiding elimination, the seventh-seeded Cardinals will live to fight another day following their 5-1 dismantling of No. 3 St. John’s Prep Monday night at Tsongas Center.

The Eagles end their season at 15-5-4.

Pope Francis (20-4-3) will now square off against No. 4 Hingham (12-4-6) in another knockout tilt on Wednesday here beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Harbormen fell to unbeaten BC High 4-2 in Monday's other contest. Pope Francis and Hingham met back on February 3rd and skated to a 2-2 draw.

This latest victory by the Cardinals comes fresh off the heels of Saturday night’s triumph over top-seed Central Catholic which sent the Raiders home.

Displaying the same kind of energy put forth only 48 hours earlier, Pope Francis was electric during the opening 15 minutes as it struck for a pair of goals to take a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. The Cardinals were never headed after that.

"We just came out and got the bounces and it was great to see some of those hit the back of the net," said Pope Francis coach Brian Foley. "Honestly I thought St. John's Prep played hard in the first period and out-shot us. But we were able to get a lead and then extend it."

Cardinals winger Jon Tavella got the scoring started after taking a lead pass from Ryan Crawford. The junior then slipped past senior defenseman Evan Beers at the blue line before wristing a shot far side by Eagles goaltender Cam Ludwig at 2:35.

With St. John’s Prep looking somewhat lackadaisical in its movement and handling of the puck, the Cardinals continued to play sharp. Just three minutes after Tavella’s marker, Trevor Crawford, taking a behind the net feed from Brendan Nehmer, buried a shot from the high slot for a two goal advantage.

Pope Francis continued to keep its foot on the pedal coming out for the middle frame. A couple of early quality chances were nullified by Ludwig. But the Cardinals continued their attack which finally paid off at 5:32 with Makem Demers ripping a laser from between the two circles that Ludwig could not snare.

Just 2:10 later, Tavella, left unguarded down low in front of the crease, bagged his second goal of the evening off a nice entry feed from Max Cocchi to push the deficit out to 4-0.

"I think the Central Catholic win really boosted our confidence coming into tonight," Tavella said. "We just wanted to come out and have the same fire we had in our past game. I think we did that. It was big for us to get a couple of more goals in the second and put the dagger in."

Eagles coach Kristian Hanson opted to pull Ludwig (12 saves) at that point in favor of freshman Noah Dorsey-Sorofman. Yet the results remained the same. With the Cardinals now on the power play, Nehmer blistered a shot into an open right side of the net putting Pope Francis ahead by five after 30 minutes.

"It was one of those games where we haven't got many of those bounces in our favor but tonight it felt like we got all the bounces," said Foley. "We have a very talented group of forwards and guys, when they have the puck on their sticks, that can be pretty dangerous. Tonight they made some good shots and scored some goals. Hopefully we haven't used them all up. The kids are playing hard at the right time and are playing well within our system which is what you hope for at this time of the year."

For the majority of the final period, the Cardinals, which finished with 19 shots, were not so much focused on scoring as they were in containing the defensive zone. Knowing St. John’s Prep would come out with all it had, the Eagles opened things up a bit offensively as they peppered Pope Francis freshman netminder Ben Zaranek with 10 of their overall 26 shots in the frame. But only one found its way into the back of net. At 7:54, Brian Carrabes raced down the left side before cutting towards the crease and was able to slip between Zaranek's pads.

"Getting that early lead was huge for us," Zaranek said. "To be comfortable in net and just play my game was big. We have been really committed to defense these last two games and the offense just comes from there. All of us have been working hard and now we just want it to continue."

But the Eagles would get no closer.The Cardinals simply shrugged off the goal and stuck to their defensive game plan for the remainder of this tilt to come away victorious.

"Them scoring early kind of deflated us a little bit," said Hanson. "I never really felt that we got things going like we are capable of. Credit to Pope Francis. They're such a strong team that it was hard for us to get going. They moved the puck well, were committed to team defense and they played a great game. Anytime we had opportunities the puck would either hit the side of the net, hit the post or bounce off a stick. It was just one of those nights."

Over the past few years, St. John’s Prep has proved to be a painful thorn in the sides of Pope Francis. Back when they were known as Springfield Cathedral, the Eagles sent the Panthers packing in 2012 and, most-notably, in 2015.

Seeing St. John's Prep for the first time in this building since that 2015 campaign undoubtedly raised a few ill-fated memories for Foley, assistant coach/team manager Steve Moore, who were both behind the bench during that dreadful evening, along with senior defenseman Jacob King, who was a newbie freshman at the time.

That season, Panthers entered the Super 8 unbeaten and the No. 1 seed. They were the clear-cut favorite to bring home their first title. But St. John's Prep was not the least bit intimidated. In a single elimination semifinal match, the Eagles stuck to Cathedral like glue all night long before Jeff Cowles netted a game-winning overtime goal to send St. John's Prep into the championship game, in which they prevailed over Malden Catholic to claim its first and only crown.

"We certainly remember that game," Foley said. "But most of these kids weren't here for that game. Jake King was but a lot of the new kids don't remember that game but the coaches certainly do."

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