RANDOLPH, Mass. – There seemed to be a moment, not too long ago, where the Super 8 picture was starting to become a little clearer as the final regular season games neared.
It was not too long after Braintree, who had very much been in the conversation all year long, had suffered two straight defeats against Bay State rivals Natick and Framingham, the only blemishes in the Wamps' loss column.
The only way it seemed that the Wamps could fully immerse themselves back into the discussion would be to make some noise against a major opponent.
Three wins followed Braintree’s loses and then opportunity presented itself in the form of fourth-ranked St. John’s Prep.
After finding themselves down in the opening minutes of play, the Wamps picked themselves back up and rode a 31-save effort from David McDonough to a 2-2 tie against the defending Super 8 champions.
“It’s a good hockey game for our program,” said Braintree coach Dave Fasano. “That’s a quality team that we just played.”
“Give the credit to Braintree, they worked hard tonight,” said St. John’s Prep coach Kristian Hanson. “They grinded out a tough point, credit to them.”
Jeff Cowles got the Eagles on the board just 1:49 into the game, cleaning up on a crowded doorstep after the Prep pushed the early part of the play.
It took the Wamps nearly half the period before getting a shot on net, but a St. John’s Prep saw them unleash four more quality efforts - all of which were stymied by Kyle Martin – and gain a great deal of momentum.
“After that you could see the bench lifted,” Fasano said. “It was like, “We’re going to be alright here.” We just had to weather those first few minutes. We don’t play St. John’s every other night, so our first few minutes our kids had to see their speed and it was a little bit different. But once they got going again, I thought we held our own.”
Braintree became relentless and seemed to have all cylinders firing on full as evident by the efforts of their fourth line who made evened the score with 2:34 left in the first when Kevin O’Brien followed up a Mike Stack shot by popping home a rebound on the left side.
“They got us going again,” said Fasano. “It was a big jump on the bench when those kids went out and did that. It kind of picked everyone else up.”
The Wamps got the upper hand late in the second period as Shawn Leslie fearlessly snapped home a tough-angled shot from the low right with 1:42 left in the middle frame.
But again before the teams dispensed to the locker rooms, the trailing team would have their say, this time it being the Eagles and this time with just 4.3 seconds left off the stick of Dan Hennessey.
While the Prep held a 21-17 shots advantage heading into the final fifteen minutes, they really took off in the third period.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, each of their 13 shots in the period were met by McDonough, who improved his save percentage to 0.935 on the year.
“That’s the fastest team we played this year,” said Fasano of the Prep. “Once we got into the game, I thought we held our own. There were times when we were running around a little bit. But there were times when we had them running around a little too...It’s how these guys have been battling all year long. We’re not 13-2-3 for nothing. We’ve got some good hockey players and we’ve got some guys that can work hard.
“That might have been the worst thing that could have happened to us, was scoring early,” said Hanson. “We score that goal and I think we felt it took the pressure off us a little bit. Instead of pressing to get the next one, we were kind of satisfied a bit. You can’t be. I knew the type of team Braintree was going to be. I knew that worked really hard. I knew they had a good goalie. I knew what the game was going to be like.”
MAKING THEIR CASE: The Wamps know that there are still two key games remaining on the docket, but they also know that with this tie they were able to get a key result to stoke the omnipresent resume building buzz that keeps the rinks heated this time of year.
“Overall, [I’m] very happy with the way we battled tonight,” said Fasano. “I think it showed that we’re definitely, I believe, a top 10 team. That’s my opinion. It’s only one opinion, but St. John’s is a great team and a great program and for our guys to be able to battle right to the end with them, I think says a lot about our program right now.”
Braintree has responded well following their only two losses of the season to 14-win Natick (3-0 on January 27th) and 14th-ranked Framingham (2-1 on February 3rd), by rattling off three straight victories.
Then on Wednesday they went toe-to-toe with the fourth-ranked Eagles and stood firm against a team that carries quite a hefty resume wherever they go.
“That tie goes as a big resume builder,” Fasano said. “We all know, come two weeks from now, St. John’s Prep is going to be one of the top three or four seeds in the Super 8 tournament. Not only that, they’re the defending Super 8 champs.”
While the Wamps continue to gather more evidence for their final case - which could be bolstered with a positive result versus Catholic Memorial in their season finale – the factor that may favor them most highly right now is the fact they have allowed the fewest goals of any team in Division 1.
“We’ve only given up 19 right now, that’s the lowest in the Division 1 hockey,” Fasano proudly boasted. “I think that means a lot. We’ve given up 19 goals in 18 high school hockey games, and we play a very good schedule to boot. I think that’s key.”