BOSTON -- Earlier this season, after a win over Winchester, Wilmington head coach Steve Scanlon spoke about junior Drew Foley being one of the best goalies that the program has ever had. Early in the first period of Sunday’s Division 2 state championship game at the TD Garden, Foley showed why he has earned such praise.
Franklin forward Aiden Isberg had two chances from point blank range, including one with the net gaping, but was robbed by Foley’s quick reflexes. It was a remarkable moment that left the fans stunned and kept zeroes on the scoreboard. That save, and several other stops in the opening period, gave the Wildcats the time to find their legs.
Once they got going, there was little that Franklin could do to stop them.
The Wildcats took control of the game, especially in the third period, and claimed the D2 state championship with a 4-0 victory. It was the second straight state championship for Wilmington and the second consecutive season that Franklin was beaten in the title game.
When he met reporters after the game, Foley, who made 15 saves to earn the shutout, was modest about his highlight reel save.
“It was actually kind of lucky. I saw the puck and moved over and waved my glove and luckily I got it,” he remarked. “I didn’t even know I got it until I shook my glove and it felt heavy.”
Foley made five saves in the opening 15 minutes, but all of them were on solid scoring chances for the Panthers. Scanlon praised his goalie’s performance in the first period, especially his save on Isberg.
The Wilmington coach noted, “I thought it was in, to be honest with you. Then he was waving it around like he had it the whole time. That was a big stop. He’s been a rock for us all season.”
The Wildcats opened the scoring with just 1:27 left in the first period. Junior forward Cody McGowan, who Scanlon referred to as “snakebitten” this season, was played into the Franklin zone by Dylan DiNatale and fired a wrister past Devon Maloof’s stick side.
“We’ve gotten in front in every game, but the Boston Latin game, and it’s huge. That just brings all the momentum with you,” said McGowan.
The second period was back-and-forth. Wilmington forward Jake Rogers smacked the crossbar and then Franklin had a tying goal taken off the board. Senior Mike Patjane slipped into the zone and scored past Foley, albeit with no effort on the goalie’s part to make the save as the whistle blew for offsides behind the play.
Franklin head coach Chris Spillane admitted after the game that the call was correct and credited Wilmington for taking control of the game and limiting the Panthers’ chances.
“We’re just a blue-collar team, hardworking, and we sort of ran into a team that was very strong offensively and met our match today,” said Spillane. “We held them in check for the first period and they sort of tired us out and, once they have space, it’s their advantage.”
The third period was dominated by the Wildcats as Franklin wore down. On the power play, senior forward Cam Owens fired a pass from the point to Brandon McDonough, who was wide open at the far post. The junior tapped into the open net to make it 2-0 and finally break the game open for Wilmington.
“I thought the power play opportunity was big,” explained Scanlon. “We moved Cam back to the point on that and moved the puck a little bit better. Once that went in, that hurt them I thought. We started to push them back and controlled it from there.”
With six minutes remaining, Rogers got redemption with the Wildcats’ third goal. He found himself alone in the circle while Maloof and the Franklin defense searched for the puck and he fired into the wide open goal. Inside the final two minutes, junior Luke Foley tacked on a fourth.
This is the third straight season that Franklin has advanced to the state title game, and the fourth time under Spillane, but the Panthers have yet to win at the Garden. It was a difficult road through the playoffs for Franklin and, regardless of the result, its coach was proud of the work that the team went through to get back to the finals.
Spillane said, “We definitely didn’t take the easy road. Am I proud of my kids? Yeah. They never stopped playing. Even tonight, right down to the last whistle, they didn’t stop playing.”
When asked if he liked playing at the Garden, Spillane joked, “I wish they’d move this down to Bourne, we seem to play better there.”
With back-to-back titles, Wilmington certainly enjoys playing at the TD Garden. Scanlon believes that there is the chance that the Wildcats could be right back in the title game again next season.
“We should be good again, you know. We don’t have as electric a player as Owens can be, but McDonough is right there behind him. We’ve got a good goalie, that’s half the fight,” said Scanlon.
According to the star goalie, there is no secret to the success that Wilmington has had in the past two years.
He reflected, “Just stay true to your system. We get the puck in deep and we cycle and get shots to the net. There’s nothing really secret about it, just play your system.”