LOWELL, Mass. – Malden Catholic did what it's done for years in March – win.
All three Lancers lines chipped in a goal as MC punched its fourth straight ticket to the Division 1A, Super 8 championship game, and fifth since 2008, with a 3-1 win over Springfield Cathedral, Thursday at Tsongas Center.
Pat Wrenn's Harlem Globetrotter-inspired goal late in the second period that saw the senior finesse the puck through a gaggle of Panthers before roofing it over the glove of Keith Petruzzelli proved to be the game-winner.
“I'm yelling at him to shoot, shoot, shoot,” Malden Catholic head coach John MacLean said. “He's stick-handling, he's toe-dragging whatever he does, typical Charlestown kid – street hockey player. It was a great shot. I thought it picked the team up.”
The first period saw the teams tread lightly and neither forced the issue on the other. The Lancers finally broke through when Ara Nazarian fluttered a pass over a Cathedral player's stick to Tyler Sifferlen who banged it home.
“Coach [McLean] just tells us to shoot on the net,” Sifferlen said. “You never know, it could go in.”
The teams upped the tempo in the middle period and Malden Catholic got the better of the action. The Lancers continually pinched in from up high and threw a hard, constant forecheck at Cathedral. The Lancers hampered themselves, taking a pair of penalties in the first half of the second period.
The Panthers made them pay when Riley Prattson rocketed home a power-play goal just over six minutes into the period.
“Riley's got a lot of energy; he's got a great heart,” Cathedral coach Brian Foley said. “He's like a lot of our kids. He works and he works. He's young and exciting. He had a great season.”
That was as close as Cathedral would get as the Lancers kept on the pressure. Malden Catholic outshot Cathedral 22-10 over the final two periods and junior goalie Alex Reissis coolly handled his duties between the pipes, racking up 14 saves.
“We limited their shots,” Wrenn said. “We usually give up too many shots and it backfires on us. We wanted to cut down on their shots and opportunities so we could get going.”
A Matt Felipe goal just before midway in the third period gave the Lancers all the insurance they would need and took the wind out of Cathedral's sails.
The Panthers pressed to close the gap but their efforts proved fruitless. Malden Catholic continued to press so hard that Cathedral was unable to pull the goalie until there were only 67 seconds left in the game.
“Once they got that third goal they're tough to play against with a lead,” Foley said. “The second half of the third period we had a tough time getting through the neutral zone, getting pucks to the net. Malden played a real strong game.”
Experience a factor: It's a tired trope, but Foley was the first to admit that experience plays a role in tournaments like the Super 8. That routine of playing the best teams at the highest level while every mistake is punished only gets more manageable after gone through it several times.
“I think experience is big in this tournament,” Foley said. “They have it, we have some. This is our first trip to the semifinals. I think we took a step forward and hopefully we'll be back here next year.
“We made a step this year to make it to the semis. They're a great team and a respected opponent. It was a great season.”
For the Lancers, the win earns them another finals date with Austin Prep; AP lost by a goal to Malden Catholic in last year's final.
McLean said that having a team that has played on the Garden ice multiple times can only help them in the season finale.
“This is four or five years that we've been in this situation, and it helps,” MacLean said. “The kids played well, they knew what they had to do. We'll see what happens on Sunday.”