BOURNE, Mass. – During two regular season meetings, only a single goal separated Hockomock League rivals Mansfield and Franklin. So, it was no surprise that Sunday’s Division 2 South semifinal would come right down to the wire.
A third-period goal by sophomore Alec Borkowski was the difference for Franklin, as the Panthers pulled out a 4-3 victory at Gallo Ice Arena and the two-time defending D2 South champions clinched a spot in their third straight sectional final.
Borkowski, who also assisted on the Panthers’ first goal, has been one of Franklin’s best forwards in recent weeks and head coach Chris Spillane called him the player of the game.
“He just demands ice time,” said Spillane. “He’s one of those kids that, in practice, he gets it done and you put him out in the game and he gets it done. As a coach, you just say, alright I’ll give you a little more and a little more and he’s delivering.”
The winning goal came with 8:24 remaining in the game. Borkowski combined with fellow sophomore Nick Downie and, after a great save by Mansfield goalie Rich Shipman, he was on hand to flick home the rebound to make it 4-3.
“I was forechecking near the net, got it off the half boards, Nicky Downie took the shot and I got the rebound,” said Borkowski. “It feels really good, especially being an underclassman and first time being in the playoffs.”
It was the Hornets (14-6-3) that scored first. Senior forward Brendan Murphy took a pass from classmate and linemate Kevin Flynn, shifted the puck onto the backhand, and beat Franklin goalie Devon Maloof on the short side. It was a great goal for the forward, who had been struggling to find the net in the playoffs.
The lead did not last long, however. Franklin got back into the game thanks to Borkowski. He shook off two Mansfield defensemen with a great spin move and laid the puck on a platter for junior forward Randy Gilbert to tap home and make it 1-1.
Within a minute, Franklin (16-6-2) was in the lead. Senior Aiden Isberg, the hero of Franklin’s overtime win against Martha’s Vineyard in the quarterfinals, wristed a shot over the shoulder of Shipman and made it 2-1. It was a stunning turnaround for the Panthers.
Despite the goals, Mansfield kept the energy high in the second period and stormed right back.
With 10:35 left in the second and Mansfield on the power play, Murphy laid a pass into the path of sophomore Will Kelleher and the defenseman buried the shot to make it 2-2. Just 35 seconds later, Kyle Hurley’s shot hit the post and caromed to another sophomore, Jared Collins, and the forward finished into the open net to make it 3-2.
As the second period was winding down, the Hornets got another power play opportunity, but it was Franklin that took advantage. A loose pass was broken up at the blue line and Isberg stretched to tip the puck into the path of senior sniper Cam Curley, who raced clear and rifled a shot under the crossbar to make it 3-3 heading to the third.
Spillane credited the shorthanded goal as being a turning point for the Panthers.
“Huge, huge…their power play was setting up and they had a couple of beautiful opportunities,” remarked the Franklin coach about the importance of the goal. “Cam is our speedster, so anytime that you can get him in the open ice… and he’s a finisher.”
The third period was filled with chances for both teams. Shipman robbed Dennis Pisani after a behind the back pass from Curley set the senior forward clear in the slot and Maloof stopped a great chance from Murphy on the doorstep.
In the end, Spillane pointed to his team’s finishing as what separated the two teams.
“I thought we capitalized on our offensive opportunities,” he explained. “We didn’t have many of them, but every time that we had that quality opportunity – we scored.”
Mansfield head coach Rick Anastos was visibly disappointed after the game.
He said, “This is exactly what we expected, but we expected to win. Unfortunately, we didn’t. You couldn’t ask for a better game and I think we were that evenly matched.”
Anastos also commented that this was a great advertisement for the Hockomock League and the depth of talent within the conference. He was most disappointed for the seniors that had led the Hornets to the sectional finals and semifinals in back to back seasons.
“They’ve meant a lot to the program. We’ve got a really great group of kids, a really tight group of kids,” said Anastos.
Franklin will now prepare for its third consecutive sectional final. It will be the team’s last in D2 as next year the Panthers (along with Mansfield and King Philip) are slated to move into Division 1. The Panthers are confident that they have a good chance at a third straight trip to the TD Garden when they take on another league rival, Oliver Ames.
“If we move the puck, then it neutralizes the physical game and it comes down to who can put the puck in the net,” said Spillane. “I think we have the scorers that can get it done.”
The final will be played on Tuesday night at 5:15 p.m. at Gallo.