NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. –- Entering their second Super Eight playoff game, St. John’s Prep captain Colin Blackwell and his teammates knew they hadn’t yet played their best hockey.
“That first game is always the biggest, but there are no excuses after that,” the Harvard commit said.
The Eagles’ second effort was bit more convincing than their first, taking a 5-1 win over sixth-seeded Needham Tuesday night at Merrimack College’s Lawler Arena.
Still, Prep head coach Kristian Hanson wasn’t leading on that his team had just won a crucial tournament test and improved to 2-0 in Super Eight play while sending the Rockets to their second tournament defeat.
“I don’t know how to say it, but I don’t think we played especially well,” Hanson said.
Regardless of the Eagles’ level of play, what was without question was the offensive output of Prep’s first line. Freshman Shane Eiserman (2G, 1A) and Blackwell (1G, 2A) each had three-point games. Winger John Farrow also continued his strong Super Eight play with a pair of assists.
Prep carried play almost exclusively throughout the first period, outshooting Needham, 10-4. Yet, the Eagles could only sneak one past Rockets goaltender Connor Murray (19 saves).
It looked as though that’s the way it would stand when the teams took to the dressing rooms, however, Eagles defenseman put a cannon shot on goal with next to no time remaining on the clock. The puck blazed past Murray and shot back out of the net as time expired, leaving the Rockets and most in attendance dumb-founded. The official pointed to center ice and Prep skated away with a 2-0 lead.
Earlier in the period, Eiserman collected the Eagles’ first goal, tapping in a feed from Blackwell, who snaked his way through the Needham defense to set up the goal. Farrow also added a helper on the play.
Later in the period, Blackwell and Farrow each added their second assists of the game on Pandalena’s goal.
“We knew they were going to try to throw everything at us because they’d lost their first game,” Blackwell said. “So for the first period, we knew we had to get off to a good start.”
Blackwell continued weaving circles around Needham defenders in the second, putting Prep out to a 3-0 lead with his goal 57 seconds into the period. He broke through the neutral zone with speed, crisscrossing his way past two Rocket defenders before finishing on the backhand.
Needham cracked the scoreboard with 2:08 remaining in the second with D.J. Walsh batting in a one-timer off of Jamie Arnao’s centering pass from the corner after shedding the check of a Prep defenseman.
“When we got that goal, I thought we might come out with a little jump in the third period and try to get back in it,” Needham head coach Bill Guisti said.
The Rockets were provided two golden opportunities to chip away at the two-goal deficit with a pair of power plays sandwiched together midway through the third. However, Needham was held without a shot.
“Our penalty kill’s been very effective all year long,” Hanson said. “We’ve been right around 90 percent all year long and we haven’t given up a goal on the power play in the Super Eight.
“We work a lot on the PK and we watched a lot of film on Needham, trying to know what they were going to try to do and defend it.”
Devin Murray provided the Eagles with a three-goal lead with 4:04 remaining in the game, putting back a rebound of a Sam Kurker shot. Matt MacDonald also picked up an assist on the play after providing a pretty outlet pass, setting up a 3-on-2 rush that led to the goal.
Eiserman capped off scoring, collecting another tape-to-tape crossing pass from Blackwell at the top of the crease and putting it into the back of the net for a 5-1 final.