MALDEN, Mass. -- Louis Finocchiaro could be Chris Serino’s most successful coaching pupil. So, it seemed fitting that Finocchiaro’s team notched the first win in the inaugural tournament that honors Serino’s name and memory.
Finocchiaro’s Austin Prep team defeated St. Mary’s of Lynn, 5-3, in the opening game on Thursday afternoon behind a two-goal effort from senior winger Nolan Vesey.
A Saugus native, Finocchiaro played for Serino at Saugus High from 1980-83, where he’s still the all-time leading scorer for the Sachems. He followed in Serino’s footsteps as Saugus’ head coach in 1997 after a stint as an assistant with his alma matter and then later joined Serino’s staff as an assistant at Merrimack College and was on the staff in 2001 when Serino took a leave of absence to battle his first bout with throat cancer.
“Chris was a dear friend of mine,” Finocchiaro said. “We’re excited to be here, in this tournament, and obviously this is its first year, so to get the first win and to be in the finals is pretty exciting.”
The Cougars were paced by a dominating first period where they outscored Spartans 2-0 and outshot them 8-3 (14-3 in shot attempts).
Cam Russo put Austin Prep on the board with a wrister from the left circle that beat Nick Holt short side. Russo’s third-line teammates, George Sennott and Brent Hill, each picked up assists.
Then, with just 58 seconds left in the period, Hill doubled the lead by jamming home a loose puck to Holt’s glove side, his two linesmates again getting helpers.
The Spartans came alive in the second period, however.
Ryan McManus cut the deficit on a power play with 6:46 left on the clock, firing a seeing-eye wrister from the right point that Austin Prep goaltender Elijah Harris never saw and the puck snuck over his left shoulder.
Austin Prep freshmen Jake McKenelley gave the Cougars a two-goal lead back just two minutes later but a pair of St. Mary’s goals in under a minute tied the score.
First, Jordan Manthorne beat Harris with a tough-angle shot from the bottom of the left circle and then Ryan Madden tucked a puck behind Harris from the goal line.
“We had a good first period, we’re up 2-0, and then we just didn’t come out strong in the second,” Finocchiaro said. “We need to learn that we can’t let teams back into the game like that. We have to finish.”
Vesey potted his first of two goals with just 32.5 seconds left in the second period, snapping a shot from in close on the right side that beat Holt over the glove. The senior tacked on some insurance five minutes into the third period when he beat Holt over the shoulder to make it 5-3.
Including the three goaltenders dressed on its roster, 15 of Austin Prep’s 24 players dressed last night were either freshmen or sophomores.
Outside of Vesey’s two tallies, Austin’s other goals came from a sophomore (Russo) and two freshmen (McKenelley and Hill).
“We have a lot of new players and we’re very young,” Finocchiaro said. “So at times, we’ll have situations where we’ll feel our lumps, but it’s a good group. They’re hard workers. We’re still not where we want to be in terms of chemistry, but that will come. There’s still plenty of work to do, we want to be better in our defensive zone, but you also want to be good at the end (of the season) not at the beginning.”
Andrew Cross, a former Lancer defenseman who played on Malden Catholic’s last two Super 8 championship teams, is one of just two juniors on the Austin Prep roster. He was skating in his first game back on Valley Forum ice after transferring at the end of last season and he led his team with three points (3 assists). He’ll face his former teammates in the tournament’s title game Friday. Sennott also finished with three helpers for the Cougars.
Finocchiaro was pleased with the way the Cougars responded after a feisty St. Mary’s team clawed its way back into the game.
After being outplayed badly in the first period, St. Mary’s outshot Austin Prep 11-8 in the second, outscoring them 3-2, before Vesey’s late goals sealed the victory.
“We answered, and that’s encouraging,” said Finocchiaro, whose team remained undefeated, improving to 2-0-1. “After that second where we let them back in the came we could have rolled over and folded but we didn’t. We came back out in the third and took care of business. [St. Mary’s] played really aggressive, really hard.”
Harris was a microcosm of his team, starting strong with some middle-period struggles before closing the door in the third period.
“He made some nice saves,” Finocchiaro said. “There were some funky goals that maybe he’d like to have back – the one on the far left boards and one on the power-play from the point – but he then came back and made some big saves for us down low on their power play, so he rebounded and responded well.”
Austin Prep now battle the host Lancers in the title game at 6 p.m. on Friday. St. Mary’s will faceoff with Hingham in the consolation at 4 p.m.