WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- When the talk centers around Malden Catholic, much of the conversation is directed towards the Lancers’ prolific offense and rightfully so.
But there are those who tend to forget just how strong this team is defensively. MC takes pride in its defense, albeit nobody seems to notice due in large part to the high-output of goals this team can amass at any given time.
Wednesday night, that defense flourished yet again, this time putting St. Mary's of Lynn in virtual headlock en route to a 7-1 victory in the opening round of the Springfield Cathedral Tournament played at the Olympia Ice Center.
No. 1 MC will face No. 6 Cathedral (a 9-0 winner over Needham) in the championship game, and perhaps a preview to a possible Super 8 meeting down the road, on Thursday night beginning at 5:10 p.m. Tenth-ranked St. Mary's, still with a shot at securing a Super 8 invite, squares off against Needham in the consolation tilt at 3:10.
As expected, MC's offense was its usual productive self, striking for five first period goals. But the defense got into the act as well, taking the Spartans off the puck, tying up the neutral zone and pinching the boards with effectiveness. When St. Mary's was able to find passage ways to the Lancer net, junior netminder Alex Reissis (22 saves) was there to turn them away.
"We have some good young defensemen back there," said senior forward Tyler Sifferlen, who notched the hat trick, giving him 17 goals on the season. "We also have some leaders back there as well in Nick Rolli and John McLean."
MC (16-3) had held opponents to a mere 37 goals this season while the offense has found the back of the net 103 times. In the Lancers last six games, they have only been scored upon six times. Only one team (BC High on Jan. 7) has scored more than four goals against them in a game, finishing with five.
In fairness to St. Mary's, MC's defense wasn't looking all that sharp at the beginning of the contest. Just 14 seconds in, senior forward Jordan Manthorne scored off a rebound after Reissis couldn't corral a hard perimeter shot from Max McKay, putting the Spartans ahead.
But all that did was wake up a sleeping giant. The Lancers regrouped quickly and gained control of the period moments later. Sifferlen, taking a cross-ice feed from Ara Nazarian, one-timed a shot past Spartans goalie Bailey MacBurnie (27 saves) at 2:18.
From there, there wer no answers in slowing this talented group down.
Keeping the puck inside the Spartan zone for what seemed like an eternity, Nick Botticelli, a sophomore, flipped a shot over MacBurnie's catching glove at 6:56 to give the Lancers the lead for good. It took all of one minute later for MC to pad its advantage. With St. Mary's forward Jon Powers in the penalty box for holding, Sifferlen bagged his second marker with a point blank shot from the right circle.
At 9:48 of the period, junior Jake Witkowski scored off a face off to push MC's advantage to three goals. Witkowski also added three assists. Just two minutes after Witkowski's score, Matt Filipe, a sophomore, showed some tremendous speed, flying behind the Spartans net and dumping a short side goal past MacBurnie and send the Lancers into the first intermission well in-control, on top 5-1.
"The guys did what they had to do in the first period," MC head coach John McLean said. "We got to roll four lines the rest of the game. We'll take the two points and move on. The Ara, Tyler and Jake line are very talented, they move the puck and are very tough to stop. It's pretty special watching them move the puck around. This tournament is good for us. We like to get out on the road and play in these types of games. I think it gets us mentally ready for the Super 8."
Over the final 30 minutes, MC pulled back some in its offensive attack, instead, paying more attention to the defensive side. As the game wore on, so too, did the chippiness from both sides. St. Mary's was obviously frustrated for not being able to capitalize when they had chances inside the MC zone. Likewise, the Lancers weren't about to stand around and play the role of a pinata. St. Mary's frustration only mounted after barely able to register a ripple offensively in the second, only to watch Sifferlen tally his third goal at 11:33 and a 6-1 advantage.
With the Sifferlen, Nazarian (3 assists) and Witkowski line pretty much regulated to bench detail over the final frame, the Lancers showed some of their depth. Logan Stark, a sophomore, registered his first varsity goal at 2:36 as he flipped a shot over MacBurnie to make it a six-goal margin.
To its credit, St. Mary's perhaps played its best period during the final 15 minutes, putting up 12 shots on Reissis but had nothing to show for it.
"First period, we get that quick goal which I think lit a fire under [MC]," Spartans head coach Mark Lee said. "I felt we had some opportunities but just couldn't put the puck into the net. The first period ended it early for us. The positive is we didn't quit and played two solid periods after that but they were the better team.”