DANVERS — Every hockey team that moves on to the state tournament hopes that its best hockey is still in front of it.
Tha has been the case for St. John’s Prep.
The eighth-seeded Eagles have skated their way to the Division 1 North final with wins over No. 9 Westford, No. 1 St. Mary’s and No. 4 Andover. St. John’s trailed against both the Spartans (two goals) and the Golden Warriors (1) but head coach Kristian Hanson has seen his team stay resilient all season.
“When your team shows resilience in face of adversity it always gives you an opportunity to win games,” Hanson said. “That’s what we’ve been doing here in the tournament and even in the back half of the season. There’s been no quit in this team and that attitude has been great for us.
“You saw it against St. Mary’s down two goals in the last few minutes and we just kept working hard and continued to compete in overtime after tying it up,” Hanson said. “Then on to Andover. It’s 2-1 and there’s an unfortunate bounce right off a referee’s skate and they tie it. But the kids continue to work hard. We haven’t let those things dictate how we play.”
One of the key factors in the Eagles’ success has been great play from freshman goalkeeper Jackson Irving. Last Thursday Irving made 24 saves to help the Eagles get by Andover.
“Obviously it’s always nice when your goalie is your best player,” Hanson said. “That’s what Jackson has been for us at points in this run. He’s playing great, but it’s a team and everybody needs to be a part of that. You can’t get too reliant on one player and we’ve done a good job as a group.”
The Eagles have also been excellent on both sides of the ice, with solid, physical defensive play and good puck movement in the offensive zone.
“That’s the type of team we are,” Hanson said. “We have a pretty well-balanced team. We get that kind of physical play from all our lines. When you get to this point in the year goals are really at a premium so you have to focus on grinding each shift. That starts in the defensive end and then moving forward from there.”
After each win one of the first things Hanson has told his team is it just gives them an opportunity to play one more game. That game-by-game approach has been key, Hanson said.
“The important thing is to not look too far ahead,” Hanson said. “You can’t look past any team you see in the tournament. Everyone has the same goal, that’s going to the (TD) Garden but there is so much work to be done before then. You have to put that aside and have short term focus. You have to focus on what you can do better right now and we have done that.”
Now St. John’s focus shifts to No. 3 Winchester and Hanson and the Eagles expect to be in yet another close game.
“I expect this to be identical last two games,” Hanson said. “We expect another tough game that comes down to the final five minutes. Even just thinking about that right now is stressful. Games like St. Mary’s and Andover they take about two years off your life.
“Winchester is a great hockey team,” Hanson said. “They have have some really great, talented forwards. Winchester has one of the best defensive groups in state and also a top end goalie. We expect Monday to be a fight just like every game.”
The Eagles take on Winchester Monday (7:30) at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell. Hanson hopes that Eagles can keep playing their best hockey heading into the finals.
“We just have to focus on what we do well out there,” Hanson said. “You go into every game and obviously you respect your opponent but it’s about yourself. We have to do what we do best.”