FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Foxboro Sports Center parking lot was full and the streets out front were lined with cars stretching half a mile on both sides of the road prior to Wednesday showdown between Hockomock League Kelley-Rex Division unbeatens Franklin and Mansfield.
The packed got its money's worth, as it often has when these two squads hook up, but it was No. 24 Franklin who cashed in on several turnovers and claimed a 4-2 triumph over the Hornets.
Sophomore goalie Mike Donadio made 16 saves for the Panthers (8-0-0, overall 4-0-0 Hockomock) while Cam Curley scored twice and Mike Patjane added a goal an assist.
"Coach was talking all week in practice leading up this about our forecheck and how we need to pressure those defensemen and get on the puck and make the most of the turnovers," Curley said. "That's proabbly a big reason why we got the W tonight."
Four big reasons, actually, as each of the Panthers tallies were the result of Mansfield miscues. Just 37 seconds into the game, Patjane intercepted a lazy clearing attempt at the Hornets blue line and got off a backhanded shot that was steered aside by Mansfield goalie Rich Shipman (21 saves). The rebound went right to Matt Teehan, however, and the senior sniped it right back into the net.
Mansfield (7-1-0, 3-1-0) responded on a power play when talented freshman Erik Foley pushed through the rebound of a Dylan Burns shot at 6:34.
Less than a minute later, Franklin capitalized on another Mansfield turnover as Patjane picked off another pass at the Hornets blue line and beat Shipman with a snap shot from the low slot to the goalie's left.
Not to be outdone, the Hornets came out blazing in the second and kept Donadio busy and ultimately got one past the sophomore as Foley cycled the puck behind the net to Steve Folan, who got a shot off from the goal line that went off Donadio's pads and right to Mike Blackman for a backhander with 3:31 to go in the second period.
As the final minute ticked away and it appeared to be heading into the final frame tied at 2-2, Curley forced another Mansfield mistake that led to his first goal of the night. The Hornets appeared to be trying to just kill off the final seconds behind its own net, but Curley's pressure forced the puck out and he was the first one to it, slipping it through with just :00.3 seconds showing on the game clock.
"Coach made the last second call to put us out there, to send [Justin] Miller's line up. And I talked to Miller and I told him to winm it wforward, just in case we had a shot to put it in the net," Curley explained. "I saw the defense go D to D so I just pressured him thinking don't let him get a breakaway pass or something. he just didn't get anything on it behind the net and I came around and couldn't believe the goalie wasn't even looking and I just tapped it in off him."
Added Panthers head coach Chris Spillane, "Just hard work. Everybody thought the period was done. Their kid just sort of chipped it behind the net, our kid didn't give up on it. He went, picked it up and caught the goalie sleeping. Cam Curley did a great job. Play to the whistle, that's what you always preach. Play to the whistle, play to the horn."
Curley tacked on another goal in the third with the Panthers shorthanded, as the Hornets failed to maintain control in the Franklin zone. Curley chipped a loose puck off the side wall, zipped past a defenseman and walked on alone, beating Shipman between the pads for a big insurance goal at 2:31.
"I think that last goal with point-three seconds was a big one," Spillane said. "That sort of turned the tide because they sort of took it us the second period. Getting a goal in with a second left to put us up by a goal was huge, and then the same kid scores a shorthanded goal to ice it and put us up 4-2. I just think that we were a little bit more conditioned than them in the third period. they had trouble keeping up the pace and it was a great effort."
THE HARD HAT
After each game, the Panthers have been presenting the most valuable player with a white construction helmet dubbed the 'Hard Hat.' It's signed by previous honorees and is delivered with a speech from the last game's owner.
Donadio has made tremendous strides in just his sophomore year, and his effort included several clutch stops as the Hornets applied pressure, earning him the hard hat on this night.
"The hard hat went to our goaltender. He made some great saves," Spillane praised. "When we needed him to he made the saves. I think their first goal was a power play and the second was sort of a not a good defensive zone coverage in our end. it was sort of in there for a while and they caught us guard. But he made some great saves when we needed him to."
Added Donadio, "Number 6, that freshman [Foley], was all over the net, he was pretty tough. Every time there was a rebound he was all over it. He's a pretty good player. They pressured us pretty well in the first two periods and then we started playing well.
And of his postgame award?
"It means a lot for me to have it. It goes basically to a team MVP. The person who gets the hard hat the game prior says a speech and gives it out and it means a lot to have it tonight."