WILMINGTON, Mass. – For the first forty-three minutes and fifty-three seconds, Central Catholic never led St. John's Prep.
For the final 1:07, they did not trail.
The Raiders surrendered the first two goals, but Alex Lester batted home a puck in the waning moments to propel Central to a 5-3 win. Lester added an empty netter with two seconds left to seal the win.
Lester's linemate, Lloyd Hayes, facilitated much of Central's offense with three assists, including the initial shot that led to Lester's game-winner.
“We're always talking about team depth and chemistry, and usually [goaltender Colin] Soucy's our backbone out,” Raiders head coach Mike Jankowski said. “Today they found a way past him a lot easier than usual. The kids answered the call. They stuck up, they came to bat for them.”
After a quiet opening 10 minutes the Eagles made their move. Mark Etherington tipped home an Ean Mendeszoon shot to put Prep on the board. He followed that up 17 seconds later by burying a pass from Jim Currier in front past Colin Soucy to put the Eagles up 2-0. Prep was only able to put seven more shots on net after Etherington's goals.
St. John's Prep assistant coach Jeff Tache said that he was pleased with Etherington's performance but that the team as a whole has to do better defensively.
“I thought he played a great game,” Tache said of Etherington. “He hustles all the time and that's all you can ask for.
“I thought it was a good overall effort. Defensive breakdowns late in periods is what cost us this effort. Again, they worked hard and probably deserved a point out of this. Hopefully we can just move forward and learn from these mistakes.”
After Prep's goals Central took over. The Raiders outshot the Eagles, 27-10, and were able to outskate and outmuscle the Eagles as the game wore on. Eric Robbins put the Raiders on the board, putting home a pass from Richie Greenberg with 1:15 left in the first period.
The teams traded goals in the early portion of the second period and Prep goalie Zach Laramie kept the Eagles ahead. The freshman turned aside nine of the 10 shots he faced during the second period. St. John's locked down on special teams as well, especially during a 71-second 5-on-3 penalty kill.
Central tied the game at three five minutes into the third when Sean Holly threw a lazy wrist shot at Laramie that the goalie misjudged and skipped over his glove to tie the game. Hayes' pass opened up Holly for his goal.
“He's been fantastic all season long,” Jankowski said of Hayes. “He's been there not only [with] points but with positional play, physicality. He's doing just a great job for us.”
Soucy turned aside seven shots and added the secondary assist on Lester's empty netter.
“He always talks about it,” Lester said with a laugh. “He likes to think he gets assists so for him to finally get one is pretty cool.”
GROWN-UP RIVALRY: Central-Andover may be the traditional rivalry, but the annual game with St. John's Prep has become one of the biggest games on Central's calendar as the team has risen the past six years.
Dating back to the 2007-2008 season, the teams have played 10 times with St. John's holding a slim 5-4-1 advantage.
Lester and Soucy both said that St. John's is easily among their top rivals.
“It's always a big rivalry and we just want to keep it going,” Lester said. “We've had some big wins now and we just want to keep it rolling.”
“St. John's has always been our rivals,” Soucy said. “They got us in Super 8 last year and we wanted to come and show that last year was last year and this is our new team this year. It was a big win for us.”
With the annual regular season game usually played between Christmas and mid-January, it's a good measuring stick for both teams that have Super 8 aspirations each and every season.
“It does set a tone for us moving forward about where we sit and a good barometer for us,” Jankowski said. “We want to compete against the best.”