By Phil Stacey
---- — WILMINGTON — They’re third and fourth liners ... in name only.
Guys like Justin Longo, Nick Bragole, Derek Osbahr, Nic Giaelli, Paul Crehan and Mark Azarian fill those roles for the St. John’s Prep hockey team. On many teams they’d be top-six forwards, but on an Eagles squad chock full of depth they provide the tremendous benefit of being skill players skating on grinder lines.
Three of the Prep’s four goals last night were scored by these so-called checkers as the hosts earned an impressive early season victory, knocking off powerful Hingham, 4-1, at Ristuccia Arena.
“Big win for us,” said Gianelli, the team’s fourth line center who had an empty net goal to seal the win as well as an assist. “Hingham’s always right up there at the end of the season and in the Super 8 (playoffs), so when you beat them you know it’s a good win. That’s exactly what this was.”
Gianelli’s linemate, left wing Justin Longo, buried what proved to be the game-winning goal late in the first period when he finished off a 2-on-1 with Gianelli, Together with right wing Paul Crehan, this all-senior unit created opportunities for itself in the offensive zone while also tackling their defensive responsibilities with aplomb.
“The three of us have been good friends now for four years and know each other as players real well,” said Gianelli, an 18-year-old from Hamilton. “We have a sense of what each other is going to do.
“Getting a goal and an assist tonight ... that was a definite confidence booster for me.”
After Hingham captain Matt Brazel put in his own rebound for a shorthanded goal 87 seconds into the third period, momentum could have slipped away from St. John’s Prep. But the hosts kept up the pressure and restored their two-goal lead 35 seconds later when Bragole, the team’s third line right wing, buried a shot with assists from defensemen Evan Leclerc and senior captain Brent Murray.
“We put that second power play unit out there and they responded nicely,” said head coach Kristian Hanson. “To go from a 2-1 game back to a two-goal game was huge for us.
“We were talking as a coaching staff recently and saying how this might be the deepest team we’ve had in our six seasons here. We feel comfortable throwing any one of our four lines out there; our fourth liners went against their first line a number of times (last night) and more than held their own. Those guys are all very interchangable.”
Billy Price, the senior goaltender from Danvers, earned his second win in as many starts after making 18 saves. He was at his best in the latter stages of the second period when the visiting Harbormen turned up the pressure by making several solid stops.
Providence College-bound captain Brian Pinho also scored for the Eagles, who jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and never trailed.
“We know whether it’s us going down there or them coming up here to play us that it’s a long bus ride, and if you’re the home team getting off to a fast start can be a big advantage,” said Hanson, whose team is 2-2-2 in six regular season meetings with the Harbormen over the last half-dozen seasons. “Getting up two goals didn’t mean we had the game won, but it was big in terms of momentum being in our favor early on.
“This was a good barometer for us; you play Hingham and you know it’s going to be a battle, and our guys responded. We’ve got a lot of seniors and juniors, veterans who know what’s expected of them. We got the result we wanted.”