MARLBOROUGH, Mass. -- Inexplicably, Patrick Storer has put together quite a season for himself.
The St. John's (Shrewsbury) forward has quietly emerged as a force to be reckoned with anytime he has the puck on his collective stick. On Monday night, with his team still very-much in the hunt for a Super 8 tournament berth but trailing Xavier by a goal, the junior came through with a much-needed score midway through the third period to help the Pioneers salvage a 3-3 tie at New England Sports Center.
The Falcons, based out of Middletown, Conn., were doing everything imaginable to tighten things up inside their defensive zone in an effort to prevent St. John's from getting any quality looks on net. Early in the final frame, Xavier was successful in its task of thwarting St. John's once they moved the puck across the red line.
But on one occasion, the Falcons failed in their mission and it would prove costly. Storer took a pass from Kevin Butler in the neutral zone and out-muscled Xavier defender John Ford in his pursuit towards the Falcons net.
Storer, standing 6-foot-1, 165-pounds, had enough juice to stay with the puck and push it past goaltender Ben Guidobono at 7:56 to deadlock this hard-hitting affair.
"I've been kind of feeling it this year," said Storer, who leads the team with 11 goals. "The puck has sort of found me off of breaks and I've been getting a lot of rebound goals and catching the puck in stride. I was happy to get that goal and bring things back to even. Our team really fought back well tonight."
Despite putting 12 shots on Guidobono in the period, the Pioneers could not break the tie as Guidobono, a junior, held his ground, finishing with 32 saves.
"Ben was fantastic for us tonight," said Xavier first-year coach Dan DeConti. "He's been our go-to guy and certainly came up big for us tonight."
St. John's currently stands at 10-4-7. The odds of them earning an invite to the Super 8 still remain strong. Certainly a victory over Xaverian (on Wednesday) will increase those chances even further.
Xavier (5-8-3) has now earned ties in its last three games.
Despite being below .500 for the season, the Falcons have already clinched a playoff spot in the newly-formed Southern Connecticut Conference/South-West Conference Ice Hockey League, according to DeConti. They still have four games remaining on its schedule. Back on Jan. 11, when these two teams first met in Connecticut, St. John's won handily 5-1.
Early in the contest, the Pioneers proved more the aggressor. Creating solid passing lanes and bumping the defense off-stride, St. John's jumped ahead 1-0 at 5:03 of the opening period on a hard slap shot from senior defenseman Bryan Nelson (9 goals).
Xavier began to pick up stride soon after the score. Doing a nice job at working the puck around the Pioneer zone, several times the Falcons managed to sneak behind the defense and snap shots on senior goaltender Mario Pizzeri (20 saves). But, as per usual, Pizzeri stood tall, keeping Xavier off the board.
But at 13:24 of the period, that would change. Falcon senior forward Andrew Meoli stole the puck inside the Pioneers zone and ripped a shot into the net to tie matters at 1-1. The momentum of that score seemed to propel the Falcons at the start of the middle frame. Within a span of just over two minutes, Xavier's offense tallied a twice on goals by sophomore Cam Pollock (4:00) and senior Sean Johnson (6:34) to go up 3-1. In dire need of something positive, St. John's got it when sophomore Chris Stalmok rocketed a shot just under the crossbar at 7:39, bringing the Pioneers back to within goal. Things stayed that way until Storer's marker midway through the final period that gave St. John's a hard-earned tie.
"We weren't ready to start this game," Pioneers coach Mike Mead said. "To come back and tie it and not lose showed me something. Xavier did a great job slipping past our forwards, getting behind us and setting up a lot of odd-man rushes. Our defense seemed to be a little to eager trying to pinch and we got burned a couple of times.
“That was a big goal by Patrick. He has been a big contributor to this team and only a few know that. They all know about Bryan and Mario but Patrick does well for us and stands out. When he uses his size and speed he becomes a valuable asset for us."