Jim Creamer doesn’t think his Bishop Hendricken hockey team was still feeling the ill effects of Saturday’s tough defeat to Mount St. Charles when the Hawks took the ice for Monday’s winner-take-all third game of the state championship series.
But Mount coach Dave Belisle was sure that the Mounties were still riding high from their come-from-behind win on Saturday. That was evident right from the opening faceoff on Monday, and they rode it to another state crown.
Using a three-goal first period, the Mounties seized momentum early and never once gave it up, as they defeated the Hawks 5-2 to win the series two games to one and earn their second straight state championship.
The title was Mount’s sixth in the past seven years and 44th overall.
“We played our best hockey period all year in the third period of game two,” Belisle said. “We carried it into the first period today and scored early, which was a big confidence builder.”
Hendricken was eight minutes away from raising the trophy for the fourth time in school history after winning game one and leading 3-1 with eight minutes to play in game two. But the Hawks were out-scored 8-2 the rest of the series, losing game two in overtime and then suffering the season-ending defeat in game three.
“I look at those goals, and it wasn’t like we were on our heels,” said Creamer. “It just felt like they just went in and we weren’t able to get one back quick.”
The Hawks actually out-shot Mount 33-24 on Monday, including 16-7 in a possession-dominated second period, but they were unable to solve Mount senior goaltender Brian Larence, who was named MVP of the series.
Larence made save after save in big spots, keeping Mount comfortably ahead for the entire game.
“Give Brian Larence a lot of credit,” Creamer said. “He kept them in with a couple power plays. We had great chances. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, it wasn’t for a lack of opportunity. He just made some saves that kept them in the game at key points.”
Belisle, who has presided over decades of Mount St. Charles championships, put his goaltender’s performance in perspective.
“It really was an MVP performance,” Belisle said. “It’s probably the best goaltending performance I’ve seen a Mount St. Charles goalie have in years.”
But it was the play of Mount’s offense in the opening period that put the Mounties in the driver’s seat. Less than five minutes into the game, Thomas Crudele put a slap shot on Hendricken goaltender Matt Kenneally, and the puck rebounded to the right post where Justin D’Abrosca pushed it in.
It was the third straight game in the series where D’Abrosca gave the Mounties a 1-0 lead. Unlike the first two games though, Mount didn’t let Hendricken come right back.
Instead, the Mounties extended the lead. After a Hendricken turnover with 5:28 to play, Mount had a 3-on-1 odd-man rush. D’Abrosca eventually held the puck long enough to pull Kenneally toward him before dumping it across the face of the goal to Pat Holmes, who easily knocked it into an open net.
“We didn’t draw it up like that,” Creamer said. “They got the first one and it was no fault of anybody’s. They made a couple good plays and now they’re up 2-0.”
But Hendricken’s nightmare first period still wasn’t over. With 2:28 left, Marc Squizzero skated to the left circle and buried a wrist-shot high over Kenneally’s shoulder to make it 3-0.
Mount only out-shot the Hawks 9-7 in the period, but it made the most of its chances.
“It seemed like every chance they got, he stopped it,” Belisle said of Larence. “Every chance we got, we buried it.”
As important as the first period was, the second period was the key for the Mounties, as they set out to protect the lead. Hendricken went on a power play with 13:12 left and generated chance after chance, with Jamie Armstrong, Pat Creamer, Brandon Mitchell, Liam Watkinson and Chris Shalvey all putting shots on Larence.
Each one of them was turned aside.
With 5:24 to play, the Hawks went on another power play and immediately Tucker Alberigo received the puck on the left post with an open net in front of him. He fired a shot from close, but Larence dove back to the post and was somehow able to make the save.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort or chances,” Jim Creamer said. “I thought we had some great chances, some great looks and he just made some great saves.”
On that same power play, Mount put the game basically out of reach. The puck bounced out to the neutral zone, and Crudele ended up with a complete breakaway. He wristed a shot by Kenneally for a short-handed, back-breaking goal, and Mount led 4-0.
“We were taking some extra chances and we gave up a couple,” Creamer said. “It’s just sort of inevitable. Give them all the credit in the world. They played a great game, they scored timely goals.”
Jonathan Finelli got Hendricken on the board with 2:30 to play in the period, but Mount went into the intermission with a three-goal lead. Despite being out-shot by nine in the second period, the Mounties lost no ground.
Hendricken replaced Kenneally with Christian Maselli in goal for the third period and the Hawks also began on a power play due to a late second-period penalty on Mount.
Bryce Dolan immediately put a shot on Larence and Armstrong had a good rebound chance, but both shots were saved. Then the Hawks shot themselves in the foot, picking up two penalties to not only wipe out their power play, but give Mount a power play of its own.
“Those penalties were two seniors trying very hard,” Creamer said. “They weren’t bad penalties. They were trying so, so hard and they were overzealous maybe. But it was nothing other than them trying their best.”
With 4:12 to play, the Hawks still needed three goals and they pulled Maselli for an extra skater, but Mount made them pay when Squizzero scored an empty-netter with 3:13 left, making it 5-1. Hendricken got a goal from Watkinson in the final minute to round out the scoring.
Shortly after, Mount was free to celebrate a state title that looked out of reach on Saturday night, while Hendricken was left to wonder about one that got away.
The Hawks will say goodbye to their seniors – Andrew Fera, Watkinson, Matt Kim, Alberigo, Sam Boulanger, Josh Olson, Garrett Quillen, Shalvey and Finelli.
And they can now reflect on a season that was filled with positives, even if it came up just short of the ultimate prize.
“It was a great season,” Creamer said. “I think when they look back on it, there are seniors in there and they’ve had a great career. Life goes on. That’s part of the sport too, and part of the lessons. That’s high school sports. Not everything is rosy and not everything ends the way you want it to end.”