WILMINGTON — Don’t call it an upset. That wouldn’t be fair ... or accurate.
Technically, I suppose, when you beat a team that hadn’t lost to a Massachusetts opponent in more than 23 months, it would have to be considered an upset. Or when you knock off the consensus No. 1 team in the Commonwealth, the two-time defending Super 8 champs who make a habit of pouncing on opportunities.
But the St. John’s Prep hockey team didn’t look at their 3-2 triumph over Malden Catholic Saturday afternoon before a full barn at Ristuccia Arena as an upset.
Oh sure, they all skated off the bench joyfully and piled onto senior goaltender Billy Price when the final horn sounded, thrilled to have bumped the Lancers off their perch. But this was no fluke: the Eagles earned every bit of this victory by controlling the final two periods and dictating the game’s flow.
“It’s kind of a feeling that’s just unbelievable,” said Price, the 6-foot-2 Danvers native who stopped 18 shots Saturday and was chosen as his team’s player of the game. That meant he was given assistant coach Dave Hennessey’s old 1981-82 Prep hockey jacket, a royal blue satin number that the Eagles give to their top player after each victory.
The former Danvers Youth Hockey netminder won his fourth game in five starts this winter by doing what he does: moving deftly in his crease and stopping the shots he should stop, plus preventing any uncessary rebounds.
“I definitely felt confident. I think we all did,” said Price. “To go out and actually do it, though, that was great.”
Staying within himself and not getting caught up in the big game atmosphere against the state’s was reigning champs was a big key to Price’s success Saturday, said Prep head coach Kristian Hanson.
So too was the Prep’s continued reliance on getting contributions from all over the roster. With nine senior forwards among four lines and two more on the top defensive pairings, it’s not so much hoped for but rather expected.
The Eagles’ top line of Brian Pinho, Andrew Brandano and Mark Azarian contributed two goals, but so did defenseman Ean Mendeszoon as part of the top power play unit. And the third and fourth lines for St. John’s kept doing what they’ve done for a half-dozen games now; grind it out, buzz in all three zones and make life miserable for their foes.
“It’s about all of us doing the little things that lead to big things,” said Brandano. “It’s forechecking, getting back on D, blocking shots, that stuff. We just wanted to wear them down, stick to our game plan and things would work out.
Like on Brandano’s second period goal, which tied the game at 1-1. Forechecking with a fury, he stole the puck at the MC blueline, used his body to ward off a defenseman and fired a shot from inside the far circle that cleanly beat goaltender Connor Mahoney. “I just put my stick on, got the puck .. and snapped it in,” he said.
The third period, which Malden Catholic had owned this season, switched benches on this day and sat snugly on the Prep side. A scramble in front of the Lancers’ goal with Mahoney down resulted in Brandano knocking in his second goal of the day; on the power play three-and-a-half minutes later, Mendeszoon’s shot got through traffic cleanly (and may or may not have been tipped by Tyler Bird) to give the Eagles a two-goal lead.
“We had some difficultly scoring earlier in the season,” said Hanson. “So we told them the only way we’re going to correct that is getting more shots off, from any angle.
“We did a lot of good things (Saturday) system-wise.”
Phil Stacey is the sports editor at The Salem News. Contact him at email@example.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.