WORCESTER, Mass. -- For No. 1 Austin Prep, everything begins and ends inside the defensive zone. The Cougars take homage knowing they have superior strength in goal along with six top-notch defenders that are all capable of shutting down an opponent at anytime.
Tonight, versus No. 8 St. John's (Shrewsbury), Austin Prep's defense rose mightily to that challenge after posting a 4-0 shutout at the Holy Cross Hart Center. The Cougars improve to 3-0-0, while the Pioneers even their record at 1-1-1.
"This is a tough place to come into in terms of a long bus trip (from Reading) and against a very good team," said Austin Prep head coach Louis Finocchiaro. "St. John's is big and physical and I thought we did a pretty good job keeping ourselves under control. We have six really good defenseman that I wouldn't worry about putting on the ice at anytime. I have confidence in all of them and our goalie Elijah Harris has been excellent.
“When you build a team, you want to build it from your goaltender to your defensemen and then to your forwards. Having six defensemen, it allows us to stay fresh. At the high school level it's tough to find six good defensemen and fortunately for us we have that."
The Cougars defense, made up of seniors Brendan Leach, Andrew Cross, juniors Kevin Kiley, Mike Disciullo, Matt Morgan and sophomore J.J. Layton, kept St. John's in check throughout. The Pioneers were limited to just 16 chances on net, with only a handful of quality attempts.
That, in turn, opened up a solid transitional attack by their talented forwards. With the game scoreless for much of the opening period, sophomore Jake McKenelley changed that after ripping a hard wrist shot past Pioneer netminder Mario Pizzeri (31 saves) at 8:26. Just a minute and change later, while on the power play, junior forward Cam Russo took a cross-ice feed from Eric MacAdams and slipped a shot past Pizzeri to send the Cougars into the first intermission on top 2-0.
The Pioneers offense had their fair share of difficulty moving the puck up ice. Austin Prep took away the neutral zone and continuously tied up St. John's anytime it had the puck on its collective sticks.
The Cougars' offense continued to shine in the second period, putting up ample shots on net. However, they could not add to their margin due to the play of Pizzeri, who was doing everything possible to keep his club in this game. But at 12:50 of the frame, Cougar forward Ryan McDonough got behind the defense, and after taking a clean pass from Bobo Carpenter, the junior skated in alone on Pizzeri, beating the senior with a quick back hand to increase Austin Prep's advantage to three goals. Moments later, with the Pioneers again playing a man short, Russo notched his second marker of the evening, blasting a shot through traffic which sailed just under the crossbar to make it 4-0.
Both teams were whistled for seven infractions apiece. The difference being the Cougars were able to convert a couple of their man-advantage opportunities while the Pioneers could not.
"Our chemistry in our lines is really clicking right now," Russo said. "The power play contributed big-time tonight as well. We have great defense and they just move the puck up to our forwards and we get down in the offensive zone and do our dirty work and get as many chances as we can. We feel we are the team everyone wants to beat so we come into buildings and just continue to play hard like we did tonight."
Although there was no scoring during the final 15 minutes, Austin Prep knew a four-goal cushion at this juncture appeared safe. The defense, along with Harris, continued their mastery over the Pioneers, limiting them to only a few chances before finally closing the door on this one.
"Mario played great for us," St. John's head coach Mike Mead said. "They had two power play goals and one other goal went off his skate. Overall I thought he played very well. We matched up with (Austin Prep) at times. The difference was they capitalized on our mistakes and we didn't capitalize on theirs. We are learning together and need to stay together as group while moving forward."