LOWELL, Mass. -- BC High had that killer instinct that all good teams have as it scored three times in a span of just over three minutes late in the first period, en route to a 4-0 win over Xaverian on Wednesday night at the Tsongas Center.
The Eagles swept the Hawks in the best-of-three series and will advance to next Wednesday’s Super 8 semifinals, where they will face the winner of Austin Prep and Central Catholic.
“We’re very excited to be moving on to the semifinals. We’re very happy with the outcome and to be moving on,” said BC High head coach John Flaherty.
It will be third trip to the Super 8 semifinals in four seasons for the Eagles.
“It’s an honor,” said Flaherty when asked about the significance of the accomplishment. “It’s a credit to the guys in that locker room. The leadership that we have and their ability to speak to experience to what it takes at this time of the season is invaluable.”
Eagles jump-start: BC High’s game plan was simple in hopes of avoiding a similar start to Sunday, which saw Xaverian take a 1-0 lead to the locker room after the first period.
“We knew we had to get pucks to the net, and we got some bounces,” Flaherty said. “A few turnovers bounced right onto guys’ sticks and into the back of the net.”
BC High junior Connor Noonan started the onslaught at the 10:20 mark of the first period when he cut in towards Xaverian goaltender Aidan Murphy before chipping the puck high and beating the freshman goaltender to the near post.
“That goal was a real nice one, it got us going,” said Flaherty.
Two of the Eagles senior leaders started a beautiful passing sequence to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead at the 12:58 mark. Defenseman Sam Topham gave a pass to Steve DeForge who quickly slid it across to junior Jake Lemanski for the finish into a wide-open net.
Just 42 seconds later a turnover led to another BC High strike and a 3-0 lead heading to the first intermission. Noonan forced the turnover and quickly got the puck to Aidan Foley who went five-hole for the score.
“We earned our chances, but we got some good bounces and we capitalized on them,” said Flaherty.
“We were playing OK in the first period, but then got off our game and panicked a little,” Xaverian head coach Dave Spinale said. “When [BC High] smells an opportunity, they cash in.”
Shutout man: In his first year as the starter for the Eagles, Brandon Payzant earned his seventh shutout of the season on Wednesday night. The sophomore stopped all 28 shots he faced to shut the door on Xaverian.
“Brandon Payzant was the best player on the ice tonight,” Flaherty said. “He kept his end of the bargain by not giving up any. When we had breakdowns, Brandon stood tall and made the saves he’s capable of making.”
He added, “We relied too much on him for my liking, but he did a great job. That’s what Brandon is capable of doing. We know that and we’re comfortable with that.”
The past two games were Payzant’s introduction to playoff hockey.
“You need your goalie to be tested in order for him to build his confidence. He played in two big stages and he played very well at both,” said Flaherty.
Payzant learned from one of the best last season. As a freshman, he sat behind senior Peter Cronin, who now plays junior hockey with the South Shore Kings in the USPHL.
“He was a great mentor to me last year, he taught me a lot,” said Payzant of the Bowdoin recruit.
“I felt pretty good coming into these quarterfinal games. I had a lot of confidence,” he added.
Topham’s blue line: Topham, a co-captain and senior defenseman, has been an integral part of the leadership core that has sparked BC High’s success this season.
He scored the only goal of the final two periods when he used his hands to find the back of the net when the puck came right to him in the slot.
“Sam Topham sees the ice really well and skates well,” said Flaherty. “When he’s using his feet, he’s putting himself in position to be an impact player on the offensive side of the puck.”
Topham isn’t just an offensive defenseman. He’s also been one of the better shutdown defenders in high school hockey this season.
“His skates are great enough that he can defend,” Flahety said. “He calmed the play down, he settled pucks down and he made good decisions. He made some real good passes coming out of the zone.”
Topham credits assistant coach and defensive guru Bob Roche with his team’s attention to detail and discipline in the defensive zone.
“Roche is a really nit-picky coach,” Topham said. “He keeps us on our toes and makes sure we fix our mistakes. We got a little too cute in the second period, but he just told us to keep it simple and to get it up on the glass and out of the zone.”
Xaverian still proud: Although Spinale was certainly disappointed with his team’s end to the season, the coach took some pride in hanging with the top team in the state for much of the series.
“We talked about it in the locker room after the game,” Spinale said. “For 42 minutes we were pretty tough and competitive. We didn’t quit down 4-0. I thought we had some good chances. I didn’t feel like the ice was tilted.”
Spinale was particularly proud of his senior class that brought the program back to the Super 8 for the first time since 2010.
“Our senior class had a four-win season as sophomores, but they stuck together,” Spinale said. “They put the program back on the map. They got us back into this tournament which was one of their goals.”
He added, “I’m really proud of them and thrilled that they enjoyed it.”