STONEHAM, Mass. – It was so familiar yet so different.
Last year, it was Malden Catholic back-stepping into the Division 1A tournament as a 10-seed and using its play-in win to jump start a third straight title run.
Last night, it was a previously free-falling Catholic Memorial squad that plugged the holes, righted the ship, and came back to defeat Braintree 2-1 at an overflow Stoneham Arena to advance to a first-round series against the aforementioned Lancers.
Knights captain Aaron Clancy played up to the moment, scoring a pair of goals less than three minutes apart in the third period to power CM into the Super 8.
“It was a quality win over a quality opponent,” Catholic Memorial coach Bill Hanson said. “We finally played the system we should be playing, and we got great goaltending.”
The Knights fell flat on their facemasks in the first period, but Brandon Collett carried them through it. The sophomore goaltender, celebrating his 16th birthday Monday, let a Wamp goal past him but locked down and stopped six shots in the period. Collett stopped 14 Braintree shots in total.
“Kid stood on his head,” Clancy said of Collett. “Without him we wouldn't be here. He's peaking at the right time, and that's all you need in playoff hockey.”
The Wamps came out guns blazing in the first period. Kevin Howard put Braintree up late in the period when his shot from the point deflected off a body and went in. Braintree used the body early and often to dictate tempo and looked as if it would turn the game into a replay of Friday's 3-0 win over the Knights.
However, CM streamlined its strategy in the final two periods and were able to turn the tide, in all facets of the game, on the Wamps. Braintree outshot CM 7-1 in the first but was outshot 18-8 during the final two periods.
“I thought in the first period we had a jump in our step, I thought we were playing well,” Braintree coach David Fasano said. “For some reason, the second period we did too much standing around; we were on our heels a little bit. Against a good team like CM you've got to go at them, force them to make mistakes.”
As the game progressed CM chipped pucks deep and forced Braintree to play a 200-foot possession, and the Knights were able to slop up the middle of the ice enough to break up the Wamps' passes. Braintree's physical, crisp game of the first period was unable to thrive once CM adjusted.
“They were great in the neutral zone and we adjusted by coming back a little deeper, getting the red line, and playing dirty, ugly hockey,” Hanson said.
“We stepped up our physical presence. We actually simplified what we did the second and third period. All's we wanted to was get the red line, try to take center ice away, and then get it in and make us play with their backs to us.”
CONTROVERSY: The game's most memorable moment was a disallowed Braintree goal in the first period that will be dissected for the rest of the tournament.
Wamps forward Brian Gallagher sliced through the CM defense and roofed a shot over Collett. The goal light went on, the Wamps celebrated, and the Knights looked to regroup. However the referee, who was just to the right of Collett waved the goal off.
After a meeting with the other officials, followed by a meeting with the goal judge, the call stood.
STILL POTENTIAL GLORY: The silver lining in Braintree's loss is that the Wamps are still playing hockey. Braintree will slot into the top seed in Division 1 South and will face either Falmouth or Walpole this weekend in the sectional quarterfinal.
Fasano said that tough odds were a manageable task for his team.
“These guys have responded all year,” Fasano said. “We lost opening night. We were 5-4-1 at one time and weren't sure what way we were going to go. We had a nice team meeting and we decided to go the right way. They've battled through some adversity.”
The Wamps will enter a wide-open South bracket that includes Marshfield on their side and possible opponents Archbishop Williams and Barnstable on the other side.
“Our guys got to keep their heads up, and hopefully we can make a run at in the Division 1 tournament,” Fasano said. “I think we've got enough talent to make a serious run. We didn't do any shame out here tonight. We'll be back at it.”