CANTON, Mass. – The stage was set on Saturday for Arlington Catholic head coach Dan Shine to collect his 500th career victory in the sweetest of fashion – against Catholic Central rival Austin Prep.
Then, AP scored three third-period goals to grab a commanding lead atop the division standings and leave Shine stranded at No. 499.
While the sting endured, No. 8 AC had another chance at delivering their coach to the elite milestone against another league rival in No. 16 Archbishop Williams, Wednesday night at the SpotsPlex. This time there would be no third-period letdown, as the Cougars started fast behind three power-play goals, en route to a 5-2 win over the Bishops.
“To give up three third-period goals, that only motivated us more to get this one,” said AC junior forward Ryan Spagnoli, who capped a hat trick with an empty-net goal. “We came out flying. We really wanted to get it for him, he does everything for us.
The Cougars (9-2-1, 4-2-1 Catholic Central) scored on each of their first three power-play opportunities through two periods, as both teams combined to score on five consecutive man-advantages.
Ryan Tierney put AC on the board at 8:38, with Ryan Smith providing a centering pass from below the goal line.
Just about two minutes later, Spagnoli tallied his first of three on the man-up, deflecting senior defenseman Brian Goggin’s point shot at 10:44.
“It was interesting because that’s not the power play we practiced yesterday and we tried something completely different,” Shine said.
However, Archies (6-4-2, 3-3-0) responded with a power-play goal of its own before the period was out, with Mike Sorrenti netting his first of two goals at 13:38.
The Cougars reestablished their two-goal lead midway through the second with yet another power-play goal. Tierney grabbed his second of the game at 6:23 before Sorrenti responded with his second goal on the Bishops’ man-up.
Spagnoli added his second of the game with 2:20 remaining in the second period; it marked the first goal either team scored at even strength.
He added his third on an empty-netter with four seconds to play, as Tierney gave up an opportunity to score a hat trick for himself, instead dishing to his linemate.
“That was very unselfish from my linemate Ryan Tierney to get me that empty-netter,” Spagnoli said. “I was happy about that.”
One for the books: Although AC had hoped to deliver an extra-special No. 500 for their coach against Large division leader AP, the group refocused for Wednesday and the task of playing another tough league game.
“We came off a tough loss to Austin Prep on Saturday and the kids felt that for a couple of days,” Shine said. “And I think they wanted to make a statement tonight.”
The Cougars also found themselves in a familiar situation, with a two-goal lead entering the third period against Archies.
But, unlike the AP affair, AC clamped down in the third, with its forwards eagerly disrupting passing lanes and sliding to the ice to block shots.
Whatever was left was smothered by goaltender John Richard (19 saves).
“It was a tough game against Austin Prep, we couldn’t hold them in the third period,” Tierney said. “But it was good to come back against Archies, bounce back, we’ve been waiting a while. We knew this was important to Coach [Shine], we wanted to get it and we were able to get that win for him.”
It’s the kind of performance Shine has come to expect from the group this season.
Aside from the aberration against AP, this AC squad has prided itself in consistency.
“Coming into the season, we had a lot of high hopes for this group and they’ve really answered the bell,” Shine said. “Hopefully, we have a few more down the road that we can answer to and stay in the hunt.”
To that end, the Cougars have worked themselves into the Super 8 tournament conversation and – if the season ended today – could carry the second nomination for a CCL team at the selection table. For a season already marked with a historic accomplishment, in Shine’s testament to building a consistent winning program, it would just enhance an already sweet year.
“I still enjoy it and have a good time, and I think the kids enjoy it,” said Shine, who’s now coached for 36 seasons. “We have a lot of people involved in it and a lot of players through the years that have been a part of it. I’m just thankful to have the chance to coach at the school and coaches these kids.”
And, in return, their coach is enriched.
“It helps keep you young when your around teenagers all the time,” Shine said.