BOSTON – In recent weeks, No. 2 Springfield Cathedral has been so dominant in its victories, the Panthers have hardly had to break a sweat past any point of the second period.
Of course, with a visit to UMass-Boston’s Clark Center and No. 3 BC High on tap Wednesday, the Panthers knew they’d been in for a 45-minute battle. While Cathedral was unable to keep up its lofty margin of victory, which has averaged eight goals a game through its last four tilts, the Panthers turned in a equally impressive three-zone performance, shutting down the Eagles in a 4-2 win.
Cathedral (15-0-2) jumped on the Eagles (10-3-1) early, scoring twice within the first five minutes of the game. After taking a 3-1 lead to the first intermission, the Panthers went about stymieing the Eagles’ rush through the greater portion of the final two periods.
“We came out of the first with a two-goal lead, and the last thing you want to do is to let them back into it in the second,” Panthers head coach Brian Foley said. “So I thought we did a good job there keeping them off the scoreboard. They pressed hard and they’re a great team, but Keith [Petruzzelli] played well.”
In front of a sizeable contingent of Panthers fans who bussed across the Mass Pike, Cathedral seized the lead on Peter Crinella’s breakaway goal at 2:36, taking an outlet pass from Dan Petrick and racing down the right wing.
Despite falling behind early, the Eagles controlled early territorial play and headed on the power play for the first time at 3:20. That wouldn’t stop BC High falling behind by two goals with Zach Prattson leading the rush on his own. Skating into the teeth of a 1-on-2, Prattson sidestepped his way around two Eagles defensemen to close on goaltender Brandon Payzant. Prattson used a third deke to beat Payzant five-hole at 4:41 while short-handed.
“He’s relentless on the puck,” Foley said of Prattson. “I thought all of those goals in the first period just gave us a lot of life, a lot of energy there.”
BC High cashed in on its second power play chance of the period at 6:51 with sophomore forward Ian Murphy dragged across the slot from left to right and shot across Petruzzelli’s body to find daylight on the far side inside the post.
The Eagles’ presumed surge of momentum didn’t hold out till the end of the period, however, as Johnny Leonard his Division 1 state-leading 33rd goal of the season, letting off a wrist shot with 33.7 seconds remaining on a 5-on-3 advantage.
“You can’t go man-down with Springfield,” Eagles head coach John Flaherty said. “If you go two men down, they’re definitely going to score. And they’ve got guys that, even when they’re killing penalties, they’ve got skills and they can score. That really made the difference in the first period.
Play slowed and chances were at a premium in the second period, but the Eagles made a final charge in the third period, outshooting Cathedral 11-4.
But once again, despite carrying play, the Eagles weren’t able to find the back of the net while Cathedral maximized its chances. Leonard collected an outlet pass from Cam Peritz in front of the Panthers bench. Skating the remaining half of the ice sheet, Leonard pulled off the half-wing boards and cut back to a high percentage shooting area before getting off another wrist shot.
The Eagles closed the final margin to two goals with Jack Duffey’s tally at 13:13.
Mr. Hockey beckons?: With his second goal of the game, Leonard upped his season goal tally to 34, and no team across state lines or in the Commonwealth seems to have an answer for the UMass-Amherst commit.
So while it’s no secret that Leonard has been a big part of Cathedral’s 17-game unbeaten streak to start the season, what might not be apparent what has allowed Leonard to break out among a roster which boasts six Division 1 commits.
“He’s dynamic for sure,” Foley said of Leonard, “but the good thing about this team is I think a big part of John’s improvement has been the other kids on this team pushing him every day in practice. He doesn’t have an easy time against them in practice.”
Don’t forget the defense: While Cathedral’s gaudy offensive numbers have garnered many of the headlines of late, Wednesday’s victory was very much a function of the Panthers’ defensive unit.
Their top defensive pairings were able to shut out BC High’s top line from the score sheet, including senior Merrimack commit Patrick Kramer.
“Danny [Petrick] and Bryce [Peritz] did a great job as a pairing, and Cam Griffin and Matt Cieboter did a great job, too,” Foley said. “They were both out there with [BC High’s top line] and did the job.”