LOWELL, Mass. -- Springfield Cathedral's recent track record in the Super 8 tournament has been nothing to write home about.
Two years ago, the Panthers lost all three of their games in the state's most-renowned high school hockey event. Last year, Malden Catholic bounced them with back-to-back victories.
Cathedral was back for yet another try again this year and hoping for a different scenario.
Already holding a 1-0 edge over Duxbury in this best 2-out-of-3 opening round format, the Panthers had an opportunity to exorcise some of the demons of previous seasons in Thursday night's second meeting at Tsongas Arena. Refusing to leave anything up to chance, Cathedral struck early and often as it built a five goal lead before settling for a 6-3 triumph.
"To have that early lead was huge for us," Panthers head coach Brian Foley said. "Duxbury is a great team. I was really impressed with them and they are well-coached. They gave us a heck of a series and made us battle for everything."
The third-seeded Panthers (17-2-5) move on to the semifinal round against Malden Catholic beginning Wednesday night here at a time to be determined. The Lancers, the No. 2 seed, are 18-4 after knocking out Catholic Memorial in its opening-round tilt Wednesday night. Back on Feb. 20, Cathedral defeated MC 5-2 in the championship game of its own tournament.
"It is the first time in school history that we are advancing into the semifinals," said junior Pete Crinella, who scored a pair of goals (Nos. 30 & 31) and also added an assist. "Last year's loss really crushed us because we had a bunch of seniors. This year we only have one senior [goaltender John Liquori] so it's nice to get him to the final four of this tournament."
The Panthers, who defeated the Dragons in Sunday's first meeting 4-1, raced out to a 2-0 lead after the opening 15 minutes of Thursday night's contest. Cathedral began the scoring by forcing a Dragons turnover inside their own zone. That led to the first of two Johnny Leonard goals coming at 2:16. Later in the frame, Crinella bagged his first on the power play after D.J. Petruzzelli won the face off in the left circle and pushed the puck over to the center/forward who one-timed a shot past Duxbury goaltender Tucker Kelly.
The sixth-seeded Dragons (16-4-3) tried to hang with the more-talented Panthers as best they could. But Cathedral's offensive firepower from all three of its lines won out and proved too much for them to handle. In addition, the chances on net the Dragons did have were snuffed out by Leonard, who finished with 21 saves, holding Duxbury scoreless over the first two periods.
Cathedral jumped out to a three goal cushion just 1:35 into the middle period. Leonard snatched an errant pass inside the Duxbury zone, skated in on Kelly and beat the senior with a quick wrist shot. With his two tallies, Leonard, a UMass-Amherst commit, now has 29 for the season. Two minutes later, with the Dragons again playing short-handed, freshman Riley Prattson put his name on the scoring sheet after wiring a shot from the left wing circle under the cross bar to make it 4-0.
"Duxbury is a good team and were coming in with a lot of confidence," Crinella said. "They're were desperate and those are the hardest teams to beat. We tried to crush their spirits early and were able to get off to a good start and keep it rolling."
Cathedral's offensive assault wasn't finished. With less than two minutes remaining in the period, another Dragons penalty led to another score for the Panthers.
This time, it was freshman Dan Petrick getting into the act. The winger, standing inside the left circle, fired a shot over Kelly's right shoulder and into the back of the net to send Cathedral into the second intermission in-control leading 5-0.
"I thought we moved the puck pretty well on our power play chances tonight," Foley said. "We had some nice opportunities and some good finishes. I think we still need to do a better job inside our own end moving the puck a little cleaner on the five-on-five. But any way you mix up our top six forwards we are going to have two lines that can score. We've also been getting great production from our third line as well. Our forwards are playing very good but I think our defense has improved a lot throughout the year. We also have gotten some great goaltending from John and Keith [Petruzzelli]."
The third period, for the Panthers, did not follow the same script as the previous two. Cathedral appeared somewhat listless to start the period, not showing the same kind of offensive aggressiveness witnessed during the first two frames. Duxbury took notice of this as well, and in the process, made a mild comeback bid to show for it. Goals from Tyler Powers and Matt Saia early in the frame had them trailing by three goals with still plenty of time remaining.
But Crinella, who is bound for Holy Cross, dashed Duxbury's comeback hopes with a breakaway before beating Kelly (19 saves) with a hard wrist shot at 9:23 to put Cathedral back in front by four goals. Matt Hammel, a sophomore, added a score late for the Dragons but by then their solid season was done.
"Springfield tonight showed what they can do when clicking on all cylinders," said Duxbury head coach John Blake. "When they're clicking on all cylinders they are a dangerous team. We gave them some power play and you can't do that against a team with that kind of ability and power they have. Our guys didn't quit and took us on a great ride. The puck bounced our way a lot this season but tonight it didn't bounce our way. The kids played a good third period and finished the year off the way the way it should've been finished off."