LOWELL — The stakes for Monday evening’s Division 1A Super 8 game between the No. 3 St. John’s Prep and No. 7 Pope Francis hockey teams were clear. The winning team would live to see another game in the tournament. Whoever fell short, on the other hand, would watch its season come to a close.
From the early going it was evident that it wasn’t St. John’s day. The Eagles saw the Cardinals claim a 2-0 lead in the first period and Pope Francis never looked back, grabbing a 5-1 win at Tsongas Center.
“It just felt like our emotion level wasn’t where it needed to be,” Eagles coach Kristian Hanson said, “but you hope once the game gets going that guys can pick it up. They got an early goal. Anytime time you’re playing a team that talented you want to keep them off the board as long as possible. They scored early and that put us behind. We fought back all night.”
Brian Carrabes scored St. John’s lone goal, with assists from Tim Usalis and Jack Gilligan. Goalies Cam Ludwig and Noah Dorsey-Sorofman combined for 15 saves. Shots on net favored St. John’s, 28-20.
St. John’s Prep ended the first period with a 10-5 advantage in shots on goal but none of them made it past Cardinals goalie Ben Zaranek, a freshman. Jon Tavella took advantage of a Prep breakdown three minutes into the evening for the first goal of the game, giving Pope Francis an early 1-0 edge. Trevor Crawford boosted the Cardinals lead to 2-0 with 9:45 to play in the period. The Eagles kept Pope Francis at bay for the remainder of the period and went to the locker room trailing 2-0 at the first intermission.
Things didn’t get any better for the Eagles in the second period. Pope Francis didn’t slow down its attack on offense and St. John’s deficit extended to 5-0. Makem Demers started the three-goal period with a slapshot that found the net to make it 3-0 Pope Francis with 9:28 on the clock. Tavella scored his second goal of the game two minutes later, bumping the advantage up to 4-0. Brendan Nehmer made the most of a 5-on-4 power play opportunity with 5:46 remaining, extending the Pope Francis lead to 5-0.
“It just felt like the entire night we were constantly fighting to catch up with their speed,” Hanson said. “They move the puck so well. They’re a really talented team. A lot of the credit goes to them. They’re an excellent team and they deserved to win the game tonight.”
St. John’s found the scoreboard in the third period. With 7:05 left in the game, Carrabes raced his way up the ice and beat Zaranek with a nifty move to light the lamp, slimming the Cardinals lead to 5-1. Unfortunately for the Eagles that was all the offense they had in store and Pope Francis walked away with the 5-1 win.
“Our shot total might’ve been 28 but it never really felt like the shots we were getting were quality,” Hanson said. “They did an excellent job getting back and clogging the lanes, kind of forcing us to shoot from bad angles. A lot of pucks we put right in his (Zaranek) chest. It’s just one of those nights where nothing was going our way.”
The Cardinals will play another Super 8 elimination game, their fourth of the tournament, Thursday evening (5:30) at Tsongas. St. John’s ends its season at 15-6-4.
“We had a very good year,” Hanson said. “I told the guys they have a lot to be proud of. This is a team that, last year, we had six freshmen on the roster. We had a great second half last year and we carried that into this year. We’ve been a strong, strong team since the second half of last season. We rely on a lot of sophomores to be leaders on this team. That’s a pretty large burden for them. You hope they learn and next year we come back stronger.”