TEWKSBURY, Mass. -- During this past week, Austin Prep has been living life on the edge. If you think that is something the Cougars are rejoicing in, think again.
For the second time in as many games, No. 3 Austin Prep needed to crawl out from under the weight of a two-goal deficit, this time salvaging a 3-3 tie against No. 7 Springfield Cathedral Tuesday night at Breakaway Ice Center.
On Saturday night, the Cougars were held scoreless during the first 30 minutes before storming back with three third period goals to slip by Arlington Catholic. Austin Prep head coach Louis Finocchiaro realizes his club is playing with fire right now, and falling behind early, especially come playoff time, is something that needs to be fixed rather quickly.
"It's going to catch up to us eventually and we all know that," said Finocchiaro, his team standing at 8-2-3. "Obviously I'm proud of the kids and the character they've showed in that we don't quit.
“But we cannot keep spotting teams two-goal leads like this. It's something that we need to keep on talking about and we have to learn to fight through it fast. We know how to play coming from behind but I want us to learn how to play with a lead."
Austin Prep trailed by a pair until late in the second period. That is when junior forward Bobo Carpenter, at 11:14, beat Panther goaltender John Liquori (18 saves) with a quick wrist shot to get the Cougars on the board.
"Our motto is to keep on working hard all the time," Carpenter said. "That's the only thing we can control so that is what we want to work off of every game. Coming back like this shows how great a team we can be when we want to be. Our next goal in what all of us believe is we need to come ready to play in the first period and keep it going from there."
But just 1:12 into the final frame, sophomore Johnny Leonard netted his second goal of the evening after blistering down the left lane and beating Cougar goalie Elijah Harris glove side, giving the Panthers back their two-goal margin. Leonard's two goals now gives him 18 on the season and ties him with Peter Crinella for the team lead.
But as they did against Arlington Catholic three days earlier, Austin Prep never showed panic. The Cougars stuck with their method of cycling the puck inside the Cathedral zone and putting as many shots possible on Liquori. With nearly a full period remaining, Austin Prep's objective was to create traffic in front of the senior netminder in the hopes of picking up a loose rebound.
The strategy came to fruition after Liquori could not snag a shot with his catching glove. As the puck rolled out to the crease, Dan O'Toole pushed it into the net at 5:20 to make it a 3-2 contest.
Although the Panthers got caught puck watching, they too, kept constant pressure inside the Cougar zone. But Harris was able to turn aside all 10 shots he faced in the frame to keep his team in it.
Only a minute after O'Toole's score, Cougar center Cam Russo forced a takeaway just inside the Austin Prep blue line. The junior then found Ryan McDonough open in the lane and delivered a perfect lead pass. McDonough did the rest, beating Liquori with a backhander to deadlock this tilt.
"There were some coverage breakdowns in the defensive zone," Cathedral head coach Brian Foley said. "We've got to do a better job on the defensive side of the puck. We played good and didn't make a ton of mistakes but when we did they capitalized. All we can do now is keep working. I like this team and the way they are working. I think we'll continue to get better and I think we'll be a very good team by the end of February."
Cathedral (10-2-3) grabbed the opening period lead after Devan Tongue put in his own rebound from the short side at 4:15. The score stayed that way until the early moments of the second. With Austin Prep's J.J. Layton in the box for cross checking, the Panthers' line of Leonard, Zac Prattson and Cam Peritz played tic-tac-toe with the puck in front of Harris (27 stops), before Leonard finished it off by roofing a shot over Harris' glove, extending the lead to 3-1.
"Springfield is a very good team,'' Finocchiaro said. "They are very patient with the puck and never seem to panic. They were much-better defensively than I first thought as well."
Following Leonard's second tally, Cathedral's offense went stone cold silent from that point. Much of that had to do with the Cougar's tight defense and the play of Harris. While this was taking place, the Cougars finally decided to awaken their offense, enough so, to grab a point in this one.
"It all begins in the net and Elijah made some very nice saves for us tonight at crucial times," Finocchiaro said. "We knew Springfield is an explosive team with some very quick forwards so credit Elijah [Harris] in how he played them."