HYANNIS, Mass. – The Panthers may be a young team, but the message they sent this weekend should have any team that crosses their path a little worried.
Barnstable coach Scott Nickerson might have summed up Saturday night’s game against No. 8 Springfield Cathedral the best.
“We were outmanned, they just did everything well. They’ve got some of the best players I’ve seen in the last 10 years.”
The Panthers followed up Friday night’s six-goal game by hanging nine goals on their second ranked opponent in as many games to capture the Cape Cod Freeze Out championship.
Sophomore Johnny Leonard paced the offense with a hat trick and D.J. Petruzzelli chipped in with two goals and a pair of assists in the win. Both players were named to the all-tournament team.
Leonard scored two of his goals in the first period as the Panthers took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission. Leonard scored his first of the night was he got behind the Red Raiders blue liners and was fed a perfectly timed pass Matt Cieboter. All alone on the breakaway, Leonard made a quick move to beat Kevin Huska and gave Cathedral the lead just 69 seconds into the game.
Freshman Riley Prattson added a goal midway through the first and Leonard was set up for a power play goal from Perruzzelli in the closing minutes of the period to put the finishing touch on an all-Panther first period.
“Always when you can score early and get a lead you’re always better off. It’s a tough game and playing from behind is hard,” said Cathedral coach Brian Foley.
Barnstable was at risk of being run out of their own building, but 20 seconds into the second period Cam Curtin got a hold of the puck and took it up the left side and rifled a shot past John Liquori.
Peter Crinella and Pertuzzelli scored a minute and a part from each other to give the Panthers a 5-1 lead and Crinella goal with 25 seconds put the visitors up 6-2, but the pesky Red Raiders refused to go away. Cody Pasic got two goals in the final five minutes, including one with seven seconds on the clock giving the Red Raiders a shred of hope to cling onto as they skated back to their locker room for the second break.
“We played a better second period, tying them 3-3 in the period and we go into the locker room trailing, 6-3,” said Nickerson. “If we don’t give up the goal at the end it’s 5-3, and I think it’s a different story.”
But Springfield Cathedral put an end to any thought of a Barnstable comeback, scoring two quick goals to open the third. Leonard scored his hat trick goal with 3:05 on the clock to end the high scoring affair.
“At the end of the second they took the momentum away so it was important to come out in the third and score the three goals to win the game,” said Foley. “I thought the next goal in the third was going to be huge. If they made it 6-4 we are on our heels.”
No inexperience here: Cathedral is skating one of the youngest teams in the state. The only senior on their team is their goaltender, John Liquori. The Panthers have five juniors in first-liners Crinella and Petruzzelli, second line right winger Zach Prattson and their second defensive pairing of Cieboter and Bryce Peritz.
That leaves 15 skaters and two goalies between eighth grade and sophomores. But don’t let that fool you. They need be considered amongst the most explosive teams in the state. Six goals against No. 22 Braintree and nine goals against No. 19 Barnstable with Kevin Huska in net.
“We are really young so obviously its work in process,” said Foley of his team so far. “Its nice we’re scoring a lot more goals than we have in the past, but we are allowing more goals than we had in the past so we need to work on team defense but we are making strides and improving.”
With such a young team, the hot question on everyone’s mind is how they will react come tournament time in February. While the season is still young, Foley isn’t worried about that quiet yet, “Its very strange but credit to those kids. They are a talented group of kids and as long as they keep working and improving, age won’t be an issue as the season goes on.”
A learning experience: Nickerson didn’t sugar coat his loss after the game and gave credit where credit was due.
“We reacted slow. At this point in the season I don’t think we could beat them one out of 20 times but down the road, who knows. It’s a good learning experience.”
Barnstable had gotten off to a solid start this season, but Saturday’s game should be a wake up call to the Red Raiders. If they want to be the best they have to beat the best and Cathedral reminded them just how far they are.
But the season is still early on and there are things that the Raiders did well that can be built upon. How they reacted when they were down after the first period is a good starting point.
“We attempted to make a game out of it but at this point in the season we aren’t ready for that type of competition,” said Nickerson. “Its good for us, it shows us where we stand and where we need to be but also a reminder that we aren’t a super eight team.”
Power-play dominance: The Red Raiders were sent to the penalty box four times and the Panthers did their best to make them pay for every mistake that made.
Four penalties translated into three power play goals for the Panthers.
Barnstable needed to play a perfect game when they were at ever strength to win the game, never mind when they were outmanned on the ice.