By Matt Williams
---- — MALDEN — There have been times over the last several seasons when rival Malden Catholic has been a stop sign for the St. John’s Prep hockey team.
Last night, thanks to the play of their Green Line, the Eagles got the green light and sped through that particular road block with a 5-2 decision at Valley Forum II.
Senior Paul Crehan crashed the net and scored the game-winning goal just 1:58 into the third period, breaking a 2-2 tie as linemate Justin Longo did the dirty work on the boards to free the puck and set up the chance.
“Malden Catholic is a third period team and we said to ourselves that we had to step up. We had to be the team making big plays in the third period — and that’s what we did,” said senior Cam Shaheen, who centers the Green Line and picked up an assist on Crehan’s goal.
Juniors Tyler Bird and Jack McCarthy scored later in the third to ensure the Prep (10-2) won its fifth straight contest and swept the season series with the Lancers for the first time in head coach Kristian Hanson’s six seasons. MC (4-5-3) dropped its third straight.
With the win, the Eagles (4-1 in Catholic Conference action) move into a first-place tie in league play with B.C. High (3-0-2), making Saturday’s Derek Hines Memorial Game at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington (2:30 p.m.) monumental in the championship chase.
“This was a critical two points. We’re fighting with B.C. High and Catholic Memorial, and points are at a premium. You have to bring your best effort every night in this league,” said Hanson, whose team officially qualified for state tournament play with last night’s win.
Senior goalie Billy Price made 27 saves for St. John’s, including 11 of 12 in the first period. The Eagles were ahead 2-1 after one stanza despite being outshot (12-5) thanks to goals by seniors Derek Osbahr (at 2:53 of the period) and Shaheen (at 11:15).
“Even with the lead early on, MC was better than us. (So) those early goals kept us it in,” said Hanson, who was particularly pleased with the play of Green Liners Crehan, Shaheen and Longo. The trio may be listed as the Prep’s “fourth” line, but provided their 10th and 11th goals of the season as a unit.
“We hate to put numbers on our lines; it’s really colors for us because we have a lot of balance. Our green was our best line offensively in the first two periods. Paul’s goal to start the third was huge,” Hanson added.
The hosts cut the Prep’s lead to 2-1 on Boxford native Ara Nazarian’s late first period goal, then got the only goal of the second on Matt Fillipe’s rebound tally. Still, the Eagles were in it thanks to selfless defense and physical play from defensemen like captain Brent Murray, Ean Mendeszoon, James Brightney and Evan Leclerc ... not to mention some timely stops from Price, who made 22 saves in the first two periods.
“I remember playing on the freshman team with him and it’s been a long road for some of us seniors, especially Billy. He made some great saves,” said Shaheen, who is also from Boxford. “We know MC is a high-powered offensive team, so whenever we play them its about motivation and finishing opportunities.”
Perhaps the most crucial chance came minutes after Crehan’s go-ahead goal when the Eagles were awarded a power play. Already 0-for-2 in the game, the Prep’s man advantage cashed in when Bird redirected a blast from Murray by MC goalie Connor Maloney (10 saves), who was chased from the cage when McCarthy scored off a clean faceoff win by Brian Pinho (2 assists) with 7:19 to play.
“We seemed to be somewhat fresh in the third, and we’re been consistent with that all year. There’s a benefit to playing four lines and maybe we saw that tonight,” said Hanson, who team turned the tables and outshot MC 12-5 in the third.
All four Eagles lines did a good job clogging the neutral zone to slow down MC’s speed. Though the ‘Blue Blades’ from Malden Catholic (now 0-4-2 in league play) piled up the shots, most were from the outside and Price, a senior from Danvers, did the job in the Prep cage.
Malden Catholic was whistled for a major penalty 3:10 to play, and another with 2:00 to play that put the Eagles on a 5-on-3 advantage for 90 of the final 120 seconds. That ended any hopes of a comeback by the hosts.
Now the Eagles, with 12 seniors playing regular roles, turn their focus on Saturday’s home rematch with B.C. High.
“We have so many seniors and we all have the same goals and we’re playing to our potential. Last time we won the league was 1994, so for us to get it would be huge. That BC game is huge and we know we’ll have to be at our best,” said Shaheen, whose goal in the first saw him streak in on the right hand boards, cut to the net and finish.
“Last year was kind of a tough year for me, so its nice to get a couple of gino’s this year,” he grinned.