LOWELL, Mass. – After four meetings, and three within a month-long stretch, Austin Prep showed that it was just that much better than Central Catholic.
A pair of second-period goals turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead and carried the Cougars to a 4-1 win and a 2-0 series Super 8 first-round series sweep of the Raiders.
Austin Prep will play BC High Wednesday night back at Tsongas Center in the semifinals.
“Obviously, first period, I didn't think we played well at all,” Austin Prep coach Louis Finocchario said. “Then in the second period we played much better. [Jake] McKenelley got that first goal, got us going a little bit.”
After a first period controlled by the Raiders Austin asserted itself. AP took the reins of the game and began to dictate tempo through the neutral zone. McKenelley rifled home a wrist shot midway through the period, and Eric MacAdams deflected home a Cam Russo shot a little over three minutes later.
MacAdams assisted on Austin's third goal, by J.J. Layton, and scored the Cougars' fourth goal to ice the game.
“He had a big night for us tonight,” Finocchario said of MacAdams. “We've been waiting for that from him. He was out for seven and a half weeks during the season. He's pretty much getting into game shape right about now. Pleased to get him going.”
The Raiders, who played their best period of the entire series in the opening frame last night, fell off the pedal and were never able to get their foot back on. Central was outshot 14-6 in the third period.
Central failed to capitalize on a pair of power plays that were sandwiched around Austin's third goal.
“We came out with some jam,” Central coach Mike Jankowski said. “I think the second period the line changes at the other end caught us a little bit. We let the first one really affect us and it was just a matter of time before they got the second. We came back and fought through it in the third. Weren't able to execute power plays; that's been an Achilles heel for us all year. We had chances, we had a lot of chances; I thought we beat ourselves.”
MacAdams, Layton, and Andrew Cross anchored the Austin defense that were consistently able to push Central to the outside over the final 30 minutes and make life easy for goalie Elijah Harris, who stopped 23 shots.
“I think we're a defensive team so we try to clog up the middle of the zone, block shots, try to get pucks out of the zone, and continue from there,” MacAdams said.
END OF THE LINE: For the 12 seniors on Central Catholic, their time on Hampshire Street was transcendent. Before they arrived Central had made the Super 8 one time and been bounced out in the play-in games twice. Four years later they leave behind a legacy of four trips to the Super 8 tournament, including the program's lone semifinal appearance in 2012.
“They set the bar,” Jankowski said. “For us to come from obscurity to jumping in here and there to jumping out and grabbing a slot in this tournament right from the get go speaks volume about those guys in the locker room.”
The first line of Lloyd Hayes, Corey Webber, and Alex Lester all played key roles in Central's Super 8 runs, and paired together this season to form one of the top lines in the state. The trio combined for 104 points this season and filled the scoring line on Lester's goal last night.
“It's been a pleasure playing with them; it's been the best four years of my life,” Hayes said. “We've made so many memories together. I'm never going to forget any of this. Obviously it's disappointing that this will be one of our last times playing together, but I loved every second of it. I love playing with those guys.”