FALMOUTH, Mass. -- Austin Prep head coach Louis Finocchiaro couldn’t hide his emotions. With the locker room door open for everyone to hear, he exclaimed, “There is no quit in this team and that was the best win I’ve ever coached."
Finocchiaro was not exaggerating one bit.
The No.5 Cougars stunned No.3 BC High 3-2 in the first of two semifinals at the Cape Cod Classic at Falmouth Ice Arena. Austin Prep trailed by two goals and were being shut out in the final minute of the second period, only to post three unanswered goals to steal a much-needed victory in the eyes of the Super 8 voters.
Nolan Vesey pulled the rug right out from under the Eagles (12-3-3) with two third-period goals, the tying and game-winning tallies, after freshman Jake McKenelley gave the Cougars some hope with 31 seconds left in the second period.
"For us to come back against a team like that is a big time learning experience and character builder,” Finocchiaro said. “We were down but there is no quit in that locker room so I’m so proud of every one of those kids in their and it was a big time effort from everyone.”
All was not rosy for the young Austin Prep (12-1-6) squad in the first 30 minutes of play as two glaring miscues contributed to their early deficit.
Goaltender Peter Cronin recognized an out-of-synch line change by Austin Prep and fired the puck up the left side of the boards to Patrick Kramer, who then found Connor Noonan on the doorstep of the crease for the 1-0 Eagles’ lead. Prep was caught as they switched out defensemen along with the forwards and left the far side of the ice wide open.
Noonan was at it again only minutes later as he stole a bouncing puck in the neutral zone off a Cougars defenseman’s stick and went in untouched for the unassisted tally and a 2-0 BC High lead with just under three minutes to play in the second stanza.
Usually, a young team would fold after two huge mistakes resulted in two quick goals the other way, but Austin Prep stormed back with McKenelley’s third goal of the tournament right before the trip to the lockers for the second intermission. Bobby Carpenter fought behind the net taking on three BC High skaters to feed McKenelley in the right slot as the freshman forward popped in his own rebound after one of Cronin’s 20 saves with 31.4 seconds remaining.
“A line change cost us and then we fumbled one at center ice and cost us again,” Finocchiaro said. “I told them, the first period we played well and it was like a heavyweight fight and then in the second we were down two goals. But I came in the room and told them to stay positive because we didn’t really play that bad.”
Vesey picked up a penalty less then 30 seconds into the third period and it looked like BC High would add to their lead. But just as the Eagles’ man-advantage expired, the scrappy Carpenter was at it again, as he slid the puck out of the BC end trying to clear the puck only to find Vesey racing out of the box unchecked.
The senior captain leaped out of the penalty box for a 100-foot breakaway for the easy wrister just under Cronin’s outstretched glove to tie the score and send the pro-Prep crowd into a frenzy.
“Up 2-0, we make a mistake on the first goal they got, we have a breakdown we get beat to a puck – we just weren’t working hard enough,” BC High head coach John Flaherty said. “That team that was on the ice for Austin Prep is a very good team, we knew they were going to be good, we knew they were going to be desperate and we didn’t match that. We allowed them to come in and steal a game from us.”
Vesey was not finished as he captained a 3-on-1 breakout, only to keep the puck on his stick at the point and beat Cronin glove side with a pretty back-handed flip sliding by the right post for the game-winner with 5:15 remaining in regulation.
"Nolan [Vesey] is such a skilled player and usually you want to mix it up and drop the puck off across the ice for the easier look but you have to figure with skill like that, he gets the green light," Finocchiaro said. "You can't complain too much though because he finished it."
Flaherty added, "[It is] very frustrating as we have to know [Vesey] is coming out of the box, he's their best guy, and one of the most lethal in the state. Once it got to 2-0, the guys in this locker room thought it was over, but it was far from over, and it was proven by the way the game was finished."
FALMOUTH 3, WALTHAM 0
In the second semifinal, Falmouth outlasted Waltham, 3-0, with a first-period barrage that only produced one goal.But Storm Fotiu had a stick on two of the three tallies as the Clippers advance to Thursday's final against Austin Prep at 7 p.m.
Waltham will face BC High in the consolation round on Wednesday night.
Robbie Souza scored for the Clippers (10-5-5) at 9:30 of the first, as Fotiu slid the puck on a perfect string to hit Souza on a break. Souza left Waltham senior goalie Nick Russo on the ice for the period's only goal despite outshooting the Hawks, 12-2.
The second period was a stalemate other than Falmouth racking up penalty minutes. Waltham (11-7-2) couldn’t muster much offense, even on the power play, as they finished the game 0-for-7 on the power play.
Fotiu doubled up the lead midway through the third period off a face-off in the Waltham end, as the senior forward dragged the puck across the crease for the top-shelf backhander. Cyrus Wickersham iced it with an empty-netter in the final minute of regulation.
Falmouth outshot the Hawks 32-15 overall as junior goalie Jake Beaton registered his first shutout of the season with numerous quality saves, including a picture-perfect glove save on a Bryan Longmoore breakaway in the final minute of regulation. Russo also played extremely well with 30 saves, including two huge glove saves in the third to keep things close before being pulled for the extra man.
Beaton didn’t see much in terms of shots, but has only allowed one goal in two tournament games and has Falmouth on the cusp of winning their own title for the first time since the Cape Cod Classic started.
"If they score with 52 seconds, it is going to be a huge lift for them,' said Falmouth head coach Buddy Ferriera about the breakaway save by Beaton. "He has been bounced around a bit and he's never had a chance to show he's a Number One, but now he is showing it."