By Matt Williams
---- — STONEHAM — From the opening faceoff last night at Stoneham Arena, the St. John’s Prep hockey team poured everything it had onto the ice. The Eagles seemed willing to exude every bit of themselves to stay alive in Game 2 of the their Super 8 quarterfinal series with Central Catholic.
The result with an intense game that felt more like a battle of wills, which the Eagles ultimately won, 3-1, thanks to Nic Gianelli’s third period winner and an empty-netter by Jack McCarthy.
All the Prep (18-3-1) earned, however, was the chance to play again tomorrow in the winner-advances, loser-goes-home Game 3 rematch with the Raiders back in Stoneham at 6 p.m.
How do the Eagles summon the energy they had last night for one more 45-minute struggle of attrition?
“We just have to work,” said Gianelli. “We know Central will come out even harder, so it will be time for us to get back to work.”
With just 48 hours to recharge their batteries after a game that was tight and physical the entire way, you might think the Eagles are at a disadvantage. Last week’s Game 1 came after a long layoff, however, and was the Prep’s worst game of the season; they welcome the opportunity to get right back on the ice.
“A lot of the momentum we built during the season, we lost during that layoff,” said Eagles coach Kristian Hanson. “Tonight, we got back to what we’re good at, and I’m happy there’s a quick turnaround. My guys are ready to go right now.”
Central Catholic (15-6-3) was hanging on thanks to a 42-save effort from junior Colin Soucy. The Raiders no doubt feel that he’ll keep them in Game 3 if they can manufacture enough offense to oust the Super 8’s top seed.
Last night, they nearly did. Soucy made the save of the night, sliding across his crease to stop Jimmy Currier, and at the other end Lloyd Hayes scored a shorthanded goal to put Central ahead, 1-0. At the time, the Eagles were outshooting Central 28-7.
“At that point you said ‘This isn’t going to be our night.’ or you say ‘We’re going to work even harder,’” said Hanson. “We have 15 seniors and they didn’t want this to be their last game — and they came right back.”
That mental resolve helped the Eagles tie it on the next shift, and the Prep outshot Central 14-2 in the third period. Heading into the final frame, it was anybody’s game. The way St. John’s completely controlled the flow of the final 15 minutes was emblematic of their toughness.
“We thought about it potentially being our last game,” Gianelli said of the mood between the second and third periods. “We knew we had to come our and play our game, play our systems and forecheck hard.”
Physically, the Eagles may have left a mark on Central Catholic last night; they finished their checks all night and in all three zones. They’ll need to summon the energy and will to do it again in order to exert the same influence on tomorrow’s game.
“They did that themselves,” Hanson said, asked if his staff emphasized finishing checks. “All we wanted to do, win or lose, was give our best effort and say we left it on the ice.”
The Raiders didn’t play their best last night, spending so much time hemmed in the defensive zone that the Prep was changing lines while on the attack. The team that beat the Eagles in their first two meetings and completely controlled last Sunday’s Game 1 will come with more energy tomorrow, and the Prep will have to be prepared.
“We know Central is excellent. We’re pretty aware of that,” said Hanson. “I still think they’re better than an eight seed, and we haven’t won a thing yet. All this did was allow us another day — we haven’t done anything yet.”