BOSTON – Against a team as fast and skilled as Malden Catholic, the margin for error in the neutral and – in particular – the defensive is slim.
That’s why Catholic Memorial head coach Bill Hanson spent the lead-up to Saturday’s Catholic Confrence clash emphasizing responsibility through those two zones and the principle of taking away time and space from the Lancers’ forwards.
The Knights delivered on that promise, and combined with a 37-save performance from sophomore goaltender Brandon Collett and a couple of timely goals from senior winger Mike Stathopoulos, the No. 6 Knights delivered a 3-2 win over the second-ranked Lancers.
“We worked a lot on executing, getting the puck out of the zone,” Stathopoulos said. “If it’s not in the zone, they’re going to have trouble scoring, so we just wanted to get the puck out of the zone and really lock down the neutral zone, then make sure we work the puck down deep in their zone.”
Despite their attention to detail, the Knights (8-1-2, 2-0-1 Catholic) emerged a bit flat-footed in the first, while being outshot by MC (8-3-0, 2-2-0) by a 12-2 margin.
The opening stanza is when Collett turned in perhaps his finest work, keeping CM in the game while stopping a number of Lancers’ scoring chances. None was finer than his stop on an Ara Nazarian back-hander off a partial breakaway with about three minutes remaining in the first.
“Territorially, in that first period, they did what they do best, they attack the net,” Hanson said. “Our goaltender had to play real well in the first period to keep us in the game.”
The Knights turned the territorial battle in their favor in the second, propelled by an early goal from Stathopoulos. Just 11 seconds into the period, Stathopoulos floated a wrister from the right wing circle past Alex Reissis (16 saves).
CM outshot the Lancers, 10-5, in the stanza, but MC was able to head to the room all square after Matt Filipe’s tally at 8:46.
The Lancers claimed the lead at 4:26 of the third period on a Jake Witkowski goal. The lead was shortlived, however, as Aaron Clancy responded for CM just 36 seconds later.
The Knights reclaimed the lead with 7:58 remaining on Stathopoulos’ second of the game. CM defenseman Frank Cosolito earned his second assist, firing off a shot from the point with Stathopoulos putting back the rebound off the initial save.
“He’s playing with confidence and he’s an intelligent kid,” Hanson said of Stathopoulos. “There’s no nervousness in him.”
Little things add up: On the Knights’ methodology for success Saturday, Hanson outlined it to be: “We just didn’t want them to get odd-manned situations against us.”
Hanson lauded the efforts of his top defensive pairing of Cosolito and Tim Weinstein, which was rolled out each time MC’s top line touched the ice.
But defense is a team game, and the Knights forward shared in the responsibility – much of which was left to junior center Anthony Panaggio, who went toe-to-toe with the reigning Mr. Hockey award winner in the circle.
“He got in his shirt just enough to not let up that extra step,” Hanson said of Panaggio. “I thought he was tremendous tonight. [Nazarian] skates as well as anybody, but he was in his kitchen.”
Conversely, Lancers head coach John McLean thought his team was outworked and unable to get the greasy kind of goals required to win a tight Catholic Conference game.
“You get pucks on net, get to the net and good things happen, but we’re not doing that enough right now,” McLean said. “We’re kind of shooting and watching, there were a lot of rebounds that we weren’t in the dirty areas to get to.
“When you have a good, hard-working defensive team like that, you have to take your lumps to get a goal.”
Work in progress: On that first line of Malden Catholic, it took another new look on Saturday, as the Lancers look to find the right combination heading into the pivotal month of February.
Filipe, skated the right wing alongside Nazarian and Tyler Sifferlen to start the game, with the trio combining on the Lancers’ first goal.
Witkowski stepped back onto the line, as the MC’s top line was again on the ice for its second goal.
“We’re doing what we did last year, trying to fine the right combination and who gels well,” McLean said. “[Filipe] is an outstanding center, but wherever he goes, he’s an outstanding player.”