BOSTON -- One team's savior proved to be the other team's fatal heartbreaker.
Both No. 5 Central Catholic and No. 8 Catholic Memorial had a lot on the line when the two teams hooked for a Monday matinee at Walter Brown Arena. The Raiders were looking to get back on track after a 3-0 loss to Andover on Saturday, hoping to keep themselves in the hunt for a Super 8 invitation while getting the on-ice product back in shape with things still undecided atop the MVC/DCL Div. 1 standings.
For Catholic Memorial, the math was simple - win your last two games, or miss the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Central goaltender Kyle Williams shined on this day, stopping 30 shots and weathering a third-period penalty shot attempt by CM's Liam Coughlin to help the Raiders hold on for a 1-1 tie.
"They took it to us in spurts, we were able to sustain and Kyle's back," Central head coach Mike Jankowski said. "We had some inconsistencies all year, we fought through things all year. Even the first goal tonight, that's something [Kyle] always gets. For him, the back half of that, he closes the door. If he plays like that and has our back like that, good things are going to happen for us."
The Raiders kept in mind last year's loss to the Knights and made adjustments that helped Williams a great deal, most importantly coming from a defense that worked tirelessly to at least keep the shooting lanes clear so the senior could get good looks on what was coming at him.
Midway through the third period, Williams made the save of the day, getting his blocker up in time to deflect a shot from CM's Kevin Bletzer. Minutes later, he made another stop of a hard wrist shot by Jared Beckwith and got a piece of a tip in front by Thomas Stanton.
The netminder's most important play however, was one that didn't hit the stat sheet as a save. The Knights were awarded a penalty shot with 3:46 remaining in the game, and CM coach Bill Hanson sent out talented forward Liam Coughlin. The junior walked in on Williams, then made a late shift to his backhand. Rather than sit back in shock, Williams simply followed his man and slid over to the far post, forcing Coughlin to take the puck lower then he likely intended and his shot ended up in the side of the Raiders net.
"No pressure, I just went and tried stopping it. I got lucky he missed the net," Williams explained with a touch of modesty.
Then, when asked if he was surprised by Coughlin's move, Williams responded, "Yeah, I guess. He could do anything. I'm just there to stop it."
Clearly the game did not come down to that one play, although it was certainly a highlight moment. Before a question could be asked about the penalty shot, Hanson quickly spoke up for his player:
"I know the question is going to be asked about the penalty shot...is he the guy you want having it? Yeah, he is. There is no one who feels worse about what he's going through right now than I do or his teammates do. It's a tough way to lose."
Mike Kelleher opened the scoring for Central Catholic, banging home a rebound at 13:38 of the opening frame, with assists going to Steven Merrick and Lloyd Hayes. Catholic Memorial tied it in the second as the Knights forced a miscue in their own end and Aaron Marcel went most of the way down the ice for a wrister at 5:38.
TWO STRAIGHT YEARS, NO POSTSEASON FOR CM
Similar to last season, the Knights found themselves entering the final week of the regular season needing points just reach the 20 needed to become eligible for postseason play. This year, they needed to beat Central, and follow that up by knocking off an excellent Fairfield Prep team from Connecticut. The tie left them short of their goal.
Were it not for the stellar outing by Williams, the Knights might have scored four goals, maybe even more given the intensity and hunger they displayed on the ice. Take this game out of the mix and there are several others the Knights will look back on as lost opportunities for points - in particular, ties with Malden Catholic and BC High in games they were leading in the third period, and a loss to St. John's Prep with just six seconds remaining.
Ultimately, however, it was the inability to score enough goals that did them in. According to Hanson, the Knights have scored 39 goals while allowing 40 through 18 games, yet still found themselves with a chance to win two games and become tournament-eligible.
"The last four games we've only scored four goals," Hanson lamented. "That's been the story of our season. We played extremely well tonight against a very good hockey team. The system we had in there worked to a tee. You hold a team like that to one goal, and with the opportunities we had, you should win the hockey game."
LEAGUE FIRST, SUPER 8 LATER
While CM needed the win to keep its postseason hopes alive, the Raiders were in need of points as well as a return to the form that reeled off an 11-game unbeaten stretch (8-0-3) prior to Saturday's loss to Andover.
While improving its resume for Super 8 consideration is certainly in the thought process, Central is still fighting to win a league title, something that is at the forefront of the team's minds right now.
Wednesday, Central hosts an Acton-Boxborough team that hasn't lost in its last six games and has wins over Billerica, Andover and a Super 8 watch-list team in Westford Academy. The Raiders hold a one-point edge in the standings over both Andover and Westford, with the Grey Ghosts taking on Billerica on Wednesday as well.
When asked if his team was thinking about the possibilities of the Super 8 just yet, Jankowski responded, "Not even close. We're so grateful today to be able to contend and now we're really looking to Wednesday. We have to bring everything because A-B's playing so well. We're just going to try and buckle it up and get ready for Wednesday."