By Matt Williams
---- — PEABODY — The Bishop Fenwick hockey team didn’t take any points out of McVann-O’Keefe Rink on Saturday night. But the Crusaders certainly had to take a little bit of confidence home with them.
St. Mary’s of Lynn held on to top the Crusaders, 2-1, after the hosts had the tying goal waved off due to goaltender interference with 70 seconds to play.
Fenwick, playing in Division 1 for the second year, couldn’t have been upset with the way they hung in with one of the Catholic Central League’s top dogs. The Spartans put on a clinic in an 8-2 drubbing of the Crusaders in their first meeting a year ago, but from the opening faceoff Saturday it was evident that Fenwick had come a long way.
“We’re pleased with the performance, but not with the result,” said Crusaders coach Dan Lynch, his club 1-2 on the season. “From a program perspective I’m pretty proud of our guys.”
The Spartans (1-0-1) scored twice in the second period and carried that lead deep into the third. Fenwick captain Mike Napolitano potted a feed from fellow senior Drew Thibodeau with 2:47 to play to halve the deficit, and the Crusaders brought the fans to their feet by drawing a power play 10 seconds later.
With 1:10 to go, Fenwick junior Nick Finan appeared to tie the game, only to see his goal wiped out when the referee ruled the hosts had interfered with Spartan goalie Ryan Borders. On the play, Thibodeau slid the puck across the crease from the left side and Napolitano took a whack at it and missed. The puck popped to Finan on the opposite side and he fired it home, but in the judgement of the official Borders wasn’t afforded the opportunity to slide across his crease to make the save.
“From my perspective, he was pushed in or accompanied in, but we’re at an odd angle from the bench so it’s difficult to say. If the puck was in the crease was unclear, so I don’t want to question the referee,” said Lynch.
“Am I disappointed? Absolutely.”
Sparked by a successful kill of a St. Mary’s 5-on-3 chance midway through the third, Fenwick found its legs and played some of its best hockey in the final six minutes. The Crusaders couldn’t score on a 4-on-3 of their own and went 0-for-5 on the power play for the game. The Spartans, on the other hand, netted the winner on the man advantage with Beverly native Shawn MacBurnie’s backhand goal late in the second period.
Junior goalie Pat O’Leary was outstanding for the Crusaders with 23 stops. He stopped the first 16 shots he saw before St. Mary’s finally scored on Andrew Markham’s blast midway through the second. It was one of the only times the Crusader defense allowed a good screen in front of O’Leary — and St. Mary’s cashed in.
“We had a number of opportunities early in the game and we couldn’t get it behind him,” said Spartans coach Mark Lee. “You have to tip your cap to Fenwick. They’re a hard working team.”
O’Leary made 10 saves in the first and did an excellent job tracking the puck with his eyes. “He was fantastic,” said Lynch. “We put him in a difficult position last year as a sophomore and he’s come out of it a mature, solid goalie. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.”
Peabody’s Jordan Manthorne, skating for St. Mary’s, earned an assist on Markham’s goal and had the Crusaders’ attention on every shift. Lynch matched defensemen Jake Brennan and Nick Coccolutto with him and was generally pleased with the way his top pair performed.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Crusaders, however, as their next game comes against Austin Prep on Wednesday. Rising to the challenge, night after night, was one of the biggest lessons learned in last year’s Division 1 baptism by fire.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Lynch. “The big thing tonight was the kids believed they could play with the best teams in this league. We have to keep that going.”