STONEHAM, Mass. -- Reading a 5-1 box score on paper looks as though the winning team had its way offensively. But, in hockey, as in many team sports, numbers can belie how important a sound defense is to influencing offensive prowess.
That was certainly the case Saturday night in No. 3 St. John’s Prep’s 5-1 non-league win over No. 6 Austin Prep, dealing the Cougars their first loss of the season. The Eagles’ victory was enabled by a stifling defensive display by their blue-liners. St. John’s held the Cougars in the single digits in shots on goal for the game, outshooting the Cougars 31-9 and controlling the flow of the game.
The Eagles were so effective in their own end, at times, it was easy to overlook them.
“We just played solid D and kept it simple, getting the puck up to the forwards, grinding, getting the puck out,” junior defenseman Evan Leclerc said. “We were just playing simple, true hockey.”
The Eagles (9-2-0) also played with the lead nearly from the get-go, as Tyler Bird opened scoring at 2:43 of the first on a partial break, sprung by an outlet pass from Ryan Byrne. St. John’s went to the room after the first with a 2-0 advantage after Cam Shaheen’s third goal of the season, with assists from Justin Longo and Paul Crehan.
They kept the pedal to the medal, starting the second period with a goal just 58 seconds in. Leclerc tallied his first of the season after some nice work down low by forwards Brian Pinho and Andrew Brandano.
The Cougars (6-1-3) broke up the shutout bid at 8:22 of the second with Brent Hill setting up a snipe from George Sennott.
The Eagles rounded out the second with Longo tallying his second point of the game, tallying an unassisted goal on a broken play.
Jack McCarthy increased St. John’s lead to four at 1:53 of the third.
“Coming in, Austin Prep was undefeated, so we knew it was going to be a tough game,” Eagles head coach Kristian Hanson said. “I think the kids really rose to the challenge tonight. I think from the first shift that our energy was pretty good. We have good team speed, but when we want to be physical, I think we can be a dominating physical team. I think we did that well tonight.”
IN THE CLEAR
Even with a goal in two, the most impressive part of Leclerc’s game came in the Eagles’ defensive zone. Leclerc thwarted a couple of Cougars rushes with bone-rattling hits.
“He was very physical,” Hanson said. “Yeah, he had the goal, but we thought he did a lot of little things. He was quick, he was physical, he made good decisions with the puck. He was one of our best guys out there tonight.”
Along with the all-around solid effort of its defenseman, including Brent Murray and Ean Mendeszoon, St. John’s also saw its depth in play.
Longo, a fourth-liner, chipped in with a two-point game (1G, 1 A).
“He’s an unsung hero type, but he’s had some huge goals for us this year,” Hanson said of Longo. “He’s a fourth-line guy, but he has the skill level of a first or second line guy. That fourth line has really played well this year. They play well in any kind of situation.”