By Dan Harrison
---- — WILMINGTON — The St. John’s Prep hockey team showed its inexperience Saturday afternoon in a 5-3 loss to unbeaten Central Catholic, squandering a two-goal first period lead while allowing the Red Raiders to score three times in the third period.
The Eagles now sit at 3-3 and, with a tough schedule ahead of them, need to find a way to grow up — and grow up quick.
“It’s like that every game,” Prep head coach Kristian Hanson said about the tough competition. “Last year we were older and had experience and could handle it. This year we’re young and inexperienced ... and we’ve got a lot to learn.”
The Eagles struck twice in the first frame, scoring a pair of goals in a span of just 27 seconds. Senior captain Ean Mendeszoon fired a wrist shot from the point on the power play that beat Central’s all-star keeper Colin Soucy, who was screened by Mark Etherington. Then, Etherington scored off of assists from Jimmy Currier and sophomore Kyle Lynch less than half-minute later to put the Prep ahead, 2-0.
After the Red Raiders (5-0-1) evened the game in the second period, Currier connected with Tyler Scearbo for a one-timer in the slot to give the Eagles the lead again at 3-2. Currier showed great patience on the play, waiting to draw the defender to him and away from Scearbo before threading the pass out front.
Despite the goal the visitors were gaining momentum, and with a lot of power play time in the second period the Red Raiders really started to carry the play offensively. The theme continued in the third when they scored twice to take the lead (4-3) before Alex Hester put the contest away with an empty netter in the final seconds.
St. John’s Prep, which ousted Central Catholic in the best-of-3 first round of the Super 8 playoffs a year ago, was outshot, 28-6, over the final two periods Saturday.
“Give a lot of credit to the forwards and their back pressure,” said Central Catholic coach Mike Jankowski. “We made an adjustment to have the forwards come back more aggressively to help the defense in our zone and the neutral zone.”
Sean Holly tied the game for the Raiders when he fired a turnaround wrist shot from the half-wall that Prep netminder Zach Laramie misplayed as he saw the rubber fly past his outstretched glove. Laramie made 29 stops in the game most of which came over the final two periods and the hiccup, while costly, wasn’t indicative of the freshman’s overall performance.
“I thought Zach was outstanding with the exception of that one shot,” said Hanson. “Zach was great especially in the third period.”
The Red Raiders scored the game-winner with just over a minute remaining after one of an Eagles’ defenseman tried to make a play in the neutral zone but was unsuccessful, leading to an odd-man rush the other way. With chaos in front of the net, the puck deflected off of Hester and into the back of the net.
“Hockey is such a frustrating game,” lamented Hanson. “One bounce can make or break your season.”
One positive for the Eagles was the penalty kill. Despite giving up a power-play goal in the last second of the Red Raiders’ first man-up opportunity the Eagles killed three second period penalties, including a 5-on-3 disadvantage for 80 seconds.