By Matt Williams
---- — WILMINGTON — The St. John’s Prep hockey team has been waiting 19 years to get its hands on the Catholic Conference hockey title.
So, even though the Eagles clinched a share of it last night with a 4-1 win over Catholic Memorial at Ristuccia Arena, the Eagles were holding off on any kind of elaborate celebration.
They want it all to themselves. And, to be honest, they’d like to win a state title, too.
“It feels great to get another win, but right now, I can’t say it feels different than any other win,” said senior defenseman James Brightney, who wore the Eagles team jacket as Player of the Game for exemplifying the team defense that helped the Eagles win their seventh straight and improve to 12-2.
“Our ultimate goal has always been the Super 8 and I don’t think we’ll be satisfied until after that. This will set in later.”
The Prep now has 12 league points with one game to go, against Xaverian on Saturday. B.C. High has 10 league points, so if they were to beat CM on Saturday and the Prep lost, the two teams would share the title. A win or tie with the Hawks gives the Prep the title outright.
Senior Andrew Brandano scored the last two goals of the game last night and classmates Paul Crehan and Brian Pinho also scored to ensure the Eagles swept the season series with the Knights (8-5-2) for the third straight season.
Pinho opened the scoring by picking up a loose puck in the defensive zone and racing down the ice. He masterfully controlled time and space as he slowed and beat CM goalie Brandon Collett for the lead early in the second period. Just 73 seconds later, the Prep’s Green Line struck again with Crehan finishing a feed from linemates Cam Shaheen and Justin Longo.
“The great thing about this team is everyone is accountable. Everyone does the work and all the lines are scoring,” said Brightney, who is from Newburyport.
CM made it 2-1 on Beay Starrett’s power play goal in the second and the Eagles took full control in the final minute of the period. Jimmy Currier stickhandled around two defenders to feed Brandano, whose backhander made it 3-1.
“That’s a huge goal in the game,” said Eagles head coach Kristian Hanson, who captained the last Eagles conference champs in 1994. “That line’s been gelling. Jimmy’s playing well and its nice to see him get rewarded, and Brandano made a nice move on the goal.”
Goalie Billy Price made 19 saves to hold off the Knights and the Eagles set a menacing defensive tone from the opening faceoff. Evan LeClerc, Brent Murray and Shaheen all laid thundering hits throughout the course of the game.
“I really saw the puck well tonight and the defense was great. They were hitting everything,” said Price, who is from Danvers.
Undoubtedly the hit of the game belonged to Brightney, who stood up CM’s ultra-talented Liam Coughlin in the first period.
“That was one-on-one fundamentals. I know he has great hands, so I watched his chest and tried not to worry about the puck,” said Brightney, whose hit drew plenty of noise from both benches and the crowd. “Defense is what’s going to win us this championship.”
“Our commitment to team defense has been tremendous. Everybody is getting back, winning one-on-one battles. We played a hard nosed, smart defensive game and James set the tone for that,” said Hanson. “That’s what it takes to win.”
Brandano scored midway through the third, depositing a rebound as Currier collected his second assist and Murray earned his first of the game. The Prep managed the puck relentlessly the rest of the way, seldom turning it over and taking the air of the CM’s attack.
“We stress simple hockey,” said Hanson. “CM was great tonight. The first period was as good as they’ve played all year, and I know they’re going to be there at the end.”