FRANKLIN, Mass. – Last season, the Kelley-Rex division title wasn’t decided until the final game of the league campaign and this season is shaping up to be just as close. Coming into Thursday night’s showdown with Mansfield, Franklin was in a first place tie with King Philip, both sitting on seven points in the league, with the Hornets just two points back.
After a thrilling 5-5 shootout at Pirelli Veterans Arena, in which it twice battled back from two goals down, Franklin moved back into first place by itself, but by only the slimmest of margins. The tie sets up another exciting finish to decide the league champ, as all three teams have three games remaining.
“I’m proud of the fact that they came back and battled through adversity,” said Franklin coach Anthony Sarno. “They didn’t quit. To lead up to that point, we didn’t really help ourselves, but it takes a hell of a team to fight through adversity two or three times in a game and pull even.”
Mansfield missed an opportunity on Thursday to create a three-way tie atop the division, after twice leading by two goals, including a 5-3 lead with 8:02 remaining in the game.
The Panthers celebrated senior night before the game and came out flying once the puck dropped. Franklin held a 14-4 advantage in shots on goal at the end of the first and had a series of scoring opportunities denied by Mansfield goalie Sean McCafferty (33 saves).
Liam Anastasia had the game’s first good chance when he intercepted a pass in the Franklin zone, but the defense recovered on the back-check and Ray Ivers (17 saves) was able to make the pad stop. Just seconds later, Dylan Marchand forced a glove save out of McCafferty on the other end.
Defenseman Joe LeBlanc put another shot on target, sneaking his effort through a crowd and forcing a pad stop. On the power play, Declan Lovett had two great chances to put the hosts in front. He cut across the crease and had a chance at the post, but McCafferty went post-to-post to make the kick save and then scrambled to get big and stop Lovett’s rebound effort.
The game remained scoreless until the final three minutes of the period. Tom Tasker showed patience on the puck at the blue line, hesitating to find a shooting lane and firing a wrister inside the post.
Franklin went into the locker room with confidence, but it was the Hornets that were buzzing when they came back onto the ice. In just 1:24, Mansfield turned a one-goal deficit into a 3-1 lead.
“Starting is something we continue to battle, but we kept our composure in between periods,” said Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini. “We knew they were a quick team and we knew that we had to jump on them early. We knew that we had to get pucks to the net and just crash the net and that’s what we did.”
Chris Jenkins set up the first goal when he forced a pad save from the right circle. Jake Lund crashed the far post and smashed the rebound in to tie it after 28 seconds. Just 22 seconds later and the Hornets grabbed the lead when Jenkins had a shot from the near boards go off Ivers’ stick and glove and into the back of the net.
The momentum was with the visitors and they took advantage on the power play to extend the lead to two. A mishit shot from the right face-off dot slid wide of the net and Cam Page was in the right place to knock it home.
“We didn’t help ourselves at all,” Sarno admitted. “We didn’t take care of the puck, especially in our own zone, and we turned it over in our zone at crucial times and it cost us goals. We were fighting it and instead of playing disciplined we were chasing it.”
It only took two minutes and a power play opportunity to get Franklin back into the game. Seniors Colin and Kyle Hedvig nearly combined on a great passing play only to have McCafferty make the stop. The duo stuck with the play and Kyle Hedvig got free in the left circle, going top shelf to make it 3-2.
Franklin nearly tied it right after the goal when a shot rang off the bar and Marchand and Kevin O’Rielly both had good looks that were saved. Mansfield went close after a great passing move from Jenkins to Page to Kevin Belanger, but Ivers was in the way. Kyle Hedvig had a shorthanded effort go over the bar and then Lovett got behind the defense only for Ryan Doherty’s back-check and McCafferty’s save to keep the Hornets in front heading into the second intermission.
As wild, fast-paced, and end-to-end the first two periods were, things went to another level in the third.
The Panthers wasted no time getting level, as Shea Hurley got on the end of Marchand’s pass at the back post just 18 seconds into the period. Twenty-two seconds later, the Hornets regained the lead. Lund was left alone in the slot and fired in a one-timer.
“My guys knew it,” said Balzarini about Franklin coming out hard to start the third. “A two-goal lead is probably the hardest thing to keep in hockey and we knew that they might try to stretch us early and we had to be prepared for it.”
Franklin kept pushing and had several good looks. JT Dwyer had an effort from the high slot snagged by McCafferty, LeBlanc smacked the post with a shot from the point, and then LeBlanc forced a pad stop that was followed up by Hedvig only for the rebound to slide wide of the post.
As the hosts pushed forward, Mansfield hit them on the break. Jenkins snuck behind the defense and made no mistake on the breakaway, rifling a shot in off the post and seemingly sealing a victory for the Hornets.
It only seemed like the game was over. Franklin came storming right back with O’Rielly knocking in a rebound from the edge of the crease to give the Panthers a lifeline with 6:33 to play. Less than two minutes later, it was 5-5. Pat Dolan’s pass out of defense found Shane McCaffrey streaking down the middle and he lifted his backhand to beat the goalie.
“I think we were a little more complacent when we had a 5-3 lead,” said Balzarini. “It was late and I think we did take a couple of shifts off. We didn’t win a couple of puck battles, but I thought we continued to play well in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone.”
“We need them,” Sarno said about getting a point. “We need them all. We’ve got a tough stretch. There are no easy nights. Everyone is going to bring their best game against us, so we need to have our best game and even if we do we have to limit our mistakes.”
Franklin (5-3-3, 3-0-2) leads the Kelley-Rex by a point heading into a difficult closing stretch of games that begins with a trip to Canton on Saturday. Mansfield (4-4-3, 2-2-1) will travel to second place King Philip on Saturday for another critical divisional game.
ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The North Attleboro and Foxboro boys hockey teams each exited the New England Sports Village with a point after their division clash on Wednesday night, but understandably, each left wanting more.
For Foxboro, it was 3-1 third period lead that slipped away and a last minute power play that saw the potential game-winning goal clank off the post and stay out that prevented the full two points.
And for North Attleboro, it was a dominating stretch during the second period that saw everything but a goal, as well as a two-goal flurry in the third period that tied the game and swung momentum in their favor but came up short of a game-winner.
Nonetheless, it was a point apiece as the Rocketeers and Warriors finished deadlocked in a 3-3 draw.
“We should be going into that game knowing we can win the game,” said Foxboro head coach Mark Cedorchuk. “If they won that game, I felt like they would have stolen it from us. Our Achilles heel tonight was they scored two power play goals. We had our chances…but our penalty kill hurt us tonight. Overall I thought our defense played well overall, I thought all five guys played well and moved the puck up ice. And our forwards played well too.”
Foxboro never trailed in the contest, taking a 1-0 lead in the first period, jumping back ahead 2-1 in the second after the Rocketeers tied the game, and pushing the advantage to 3-1early in the third period.
North Attleboro, who was a bit unlucky to go down a goal in the opening period, knotted the score less than a minute into the second and then scored a pair of goals in less than a minute span in the third to tie the game.
Trailing by a goal going into the third, the message from head coach Ben McManama was clear.
“Very simple, it’s no secret…’This will be the most important 15 minutes of our season,’” McManama said. “It’s pretty obvious why, looking at the standings and who we have left on the schedule. I thought they worked hard all game but they brought it to another level in the third period.”
But before North could rally, it faced even more adversity as the Warriors scored less than a minute into the third. Junior Kirk Leach netted a highlight-reel goal, splitting a pair of Rocketeer defenseman and shielding one as curled back in front and popped a shot top shelf to give Foxboro a 3-1 lead with 14:16 to play.
North Attleboro got some life with a power play chance with 11:11 to play and cashed in less than a minute into the man-advantage chance. Tyler Sarro and Dennis Morehouse connected with senior Jack Connolly along the boards in the corner. Connolly curled back to the right circle and fired a wrist shot into the top corner with a screen in front to make it 3-2 on North’s second power play goal of the night.
“The two power play goals were great but the reason they were great is because he didn’t see either shot,” McManama said. “That’s something that we’ve been working on…we’re not just trying to get to the net, we’re trying to take the goalies’ eyes away. So it was refreshing to see it happen.”
With momentum on its side, North Attleboro cashed in less than a minute later. Senior Matt McSweeney drove hard to the net but lost possession. However, the puck popped free right in the middle and senior defenseman Jeff Baker stepped up and blasted a shot through traffic into the back of the net to make it 3-3.
The Rocketeers had a chance to make it three straight with another power play chance at the midway point of the third period but Foxboro goalie Espen Reager came up with a double save on Morehouse and another on a shot from Will Yeomans through traffic.
Leach broke free in the final minute and went on a breakaway that drew a slash and a power play chance for the Warriors with 38 seconds to play. After winning an offensive zone faceoff, Foxboro sophomore Jack Watts bounced on the loose puck, maneuvered past a defenseman and backhanded a shot five-hole but North goalie Nick Digiacomo got just enough of it and it hit off the post and stayed out.
“We tried to keep everything in front of [Reager] but tonight our Achilles heel was our penalty kill,” Cedorchuk said. “I thought we skated with them, we transitioned well with them, and we kept them to the outside for the most part. I really thought we were going to have that one.
“Knowing where we are now and the level of talent we have, we know that we can compete with anyone on our schedule.”
Foxboro opened the scoring just under three minutes into the game with a bit of an unlucky bounce for the Rocketeers. The Warriors were in the midst of a line change and North looked to counter up ice but the puck was inadvertently blocked by the ref and stayed in North’s zone.
Foxboro’s Kyle McGinnis quickly jumped on the puck and connected with Leach, who found some space and blasted a shot into the back of the net.
North had the edge with eight shots on goal in period but Reager was up to the task each time. He first blocked away a chance from Brady Sarro, gloved a shot from McSweeney, and kicked away a rush from Sam Clarke.
The Warriors’ best chance to double its lead came when Watts gloved down a loose puck and found Ronnie MacLellan but his shot was denied by Digiacomo.
The Rocketeers came out flying in the second period and were rewarded with the tying goal less than a minute in. A flurry of chances resulted in a big scrum in front of the net and eventually, it was Connolly that found the puck and the back of the net, Tyler Sarro and Yeomans assisting, to make it 1-1.
But North was whistled for a penalty after Foxboro’s Ryan Jacobs and Josh Bertumen applied pressure. Less than 20 seconds into the man advantage, Leach skated to the right circle and fired a low shot that Watts redirected right in front to regain a 2-1 advantage.
North dominated a solid six-minute stretch in the second period but couldn’t find the back of the net. Clarke, Longa, Connolly, and McSweeney all had good chances come up short. But the Rocketeers were able to ride that momentum into the third and score a pair of goals to tie the game.
“There’s a lot of little things going on this year so you have to look at the positives,” McManama said. “We battled back, we probably played one of our better periods energy wise of the year, and we just have to keep doing that. Every day at practice, we have to keep showing up and getting better. If we compete and work hard, we’re going to be fine.”
Looking forward to his junior season at St. Anselm, Ryan Spillane was expecting to see a larger role for the Hawks. The former Franklin High standout had played in 23 games as a sophomore, scoring a pair of goals and recording three assists, and he had high hopes of even more ice time and even more production as a junior.
Unfortunately, a hamstring injury in September would cost Spillane the entire year. He has worked hard to not only get back on the ice but to become a regular contributor for a team with its sights set on bringing home the NE-10 title.
“By the beginning of the summer I was ready to get back on the ice and get in shape,” Spillane explained. “By the time the season came, I felt like I was ready to go, back in game shape like I was two years ago. It’s nice to be back on the ice.”
It is always hard for an athlete to sit and watch his team play, but Spillane praised his coaches, teammates, and the training staff at St. Anselm for keeping him involved and for getting him back on the ice for this season.
“It was definitely really frustrating,” he admitted. “At first, I was rehabbing the injury with hopes of coming back and then I saw a couple more doctors and it ended up that I had to have surgery. It’s tough to show up every day and watch knowing that you’re not going to be on the ice at any point in the season.”
The injury has also been a motivating factor for his senior season and a reminder to not take any moment on the ice for granted.
“It kind of was a little bit of a shock,” Spillane said. “It kind of told me that I have to focus in and really give it all I’ve got for this last year because you never know if something could happen. You could go down in any game, so you’ve just to give it everything you’ve got every game.”
Hard work has been a trademark of his game since his time at Franklin when Spillane led the Panthers to their first Super 8 berth, winning Hockomock League MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year honors in the process. He capped that season with one of the top moments in program history, when he scored the game-winning goal against Xaverian in the Super 8 play-in game.
“I’m still best friends with all those kids I played with on that team,” Spillane said. “Obviously we’re older now, but it’s something that’s still reminisced upon on occasion.”
Although playing college hockey was something that he had long considered, Spillane chose to stay at Franklin for the full four years before taking a postgraduate season at Kent Hill School in Maine. He said that staying at Franklin was an easy decision, in no small part because he was able to play for his father Chris.
He said, “There was no chance I was going to leave Franklin. Obviously playing for my father, and playing with all the kids I grew up with, it was too special for me and something I wasn’t willing to give up.”
His season in Maine was critical to his development and, he said, one of the reasons that he was prepared for playing at the collegiate level. While his post-grad experience helped, Spillane said that there was still a lot of growth when he got to the Manchester, N.H. campus, both physically and mentally.
“I came in pretty light and was getting thrown around a little bit, so just getting stronger as a player is really important,” he said. “Coming into senior year, trying to pick up a bigger role, it’s definitely been quite a ride here.”
The comfort level he feels on the ice is obvious, as he has already scored a career-high six goals and tied his career-high with three assists through the first 18 games of the season. That included the eventual game-winning goal in the first period on Friday night against Post. It was the third straight win for the Hawks (10-7-1, 5-2-1), who are in the middle of conference play and currently lead the league by a point over St. Michael’s.
The Spillane family legacy at Franklin is well-documented. Chris Spillane was a star player for the Panthers before becoming the head coach and leading the program for 20 successful season. Ryan and CJ Spillane both played for the Panthers and their sister Kaitlyn was a standout at Franklin before heading to prep school and to an impressive career at St. Anselm.
Kaitlyn’s success at St. Anselm was one of the reasons that Ryan had the school as his top option.
“It’s where I wanted to play hockey, where I wanted to go to school, and I was fortunate enough to make that happen,” he said.
“Playing hockey at the same school as my sister definitely brought us closer together. We could talk hockey, we could talk school, we could talk whatever and it was really special to be able to watch her last couple years playing hockey. She’s a great hockey player, so it was really fun to watch her.”
One of the reasons that Chris Spillane cited for his decision to step down after two decades in charge of the Panthers was the chance to watch Ryan play his senior season. Ryan said he was grateful to look up in the stands and see both his parents there watching, even if the coaching hasn’t really stopped.
“You definitely get the pointers after every game, but it’s great that I’m able to have that relationship with him,” he said. “He’s been coaching [at Franklin] for so long, it’s been such a big part of his life our whole lives but it reaches a point in everything where you’ve got to call it quits and I think he was just at that point where he was ready to hang them up.”
Spillane is closing in on the time when he will have to hang up the skates as well. His senior season is winding down and he is confident that the team can send him out with a NE-10 championship. “I’ve only got about 13 games left in my career,” he said, “and I’d just like to go out on top, end on a high note, and just give it everything I’ve got.”
He took a moment to reflect on what the end of his career will mean, after so many years spent on the ice. “It’s just crazy to think how quick it’s winding down,” he said.
“It feels like just yesterday that I was playing my first college game, even playing high school games. It’s been a long career, hockey’s been my life since I was five years old, and it’s crazy to think it’s coming to an end. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had a great run.”
After back-to-back games in which the Bulldogs needed a third period goal to ignite its offense, Canton focused on all of the little things to get things going from the start.
And it certainly helps when two-thirds of your top line returns from injury.
Senior Chris Savoie, the team’s leading goal scorer, returned after a three-game hiatus to join classmate Johnny Hagan and sophomore Eamon Kelly (who rejoined the lineup on Wednesday) and the Bulldogs found the back of the net in each period en route to a 5-2 decision over a good King Philip team.
With the win, Canton extends its unbeaten streak to 35 games.
“We checked a lot of the boxes tonight,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman. “We learned from some of the games in the past against KP where you have to come out and do the little things like winning the battles, getting pucks to the net, working hard on the backcheck, and good things will happen. We kind of got away from that, even in some of the games we’ve played well, we have to realize the little things will lead to the goal scoring opportunities.”
Canton’s top line combined for three goals while Shane Marshall scored twice, finding the back of the net for the second straight game. The Bulldogs never trailed, turning a one-goal lead after a period into a two-goal advantage through 30 minutes. Canton had a four-goal lead before KP scored in the final minute of play.
“They don’t make many mistakes and they have three lines, one is as good as the next,” said King Philip head coach Paul Carlow. “They are well-coached and a deep team, they are good every year for a reason. It’s a good measuring stick, we need to play better to do well down the stretch. I think all the Hock teams are good but I think they are clearly the best.”
After a relatively even first 10 minutes, Canton seized the lead with just 2:25 to go. Not only did it give the hosts the lead and the momentum before the first intermission, it was a sign of things to come for the Bulldogs’ offense.
Just seconds after a 4-on-4 situation ended, Kelly made a hard drive to the net down the left side, cutting in front of the net but KP goalie Jesper Makudera made the stop. But Marshall was first the loose puck and batted the rebound in to give the hosts the lead.
King Philip responded well to start the second period, cashing in on its offensive zone pressure. The Warriors were able to force a loose clearance and sophomore Shaun Fitzpatrick won a stick battle to unleash a wrist shot. Canton goalie Joe Cammarata made the kick save but the rebound popped right to senior Noah Ray and he buried it to make it 1-1 with 11:15 left in the second.
While the Warriors seemed to have the momentum, they were whistled for a trip and the Bulldogs went on the power play. Canton needed just over a minute to cash in as senior defenseman Owen Lehane skated down into the right circle, firing a shot that Kelly tipped in for a 2-1 lead.
“We were battling out front, looked like a stick might have hit a skate…it was just a tough time for that call,” Carlow said. “We got some momentum back there with the goal early in the second and I felt like if we could play 5-on-5 for a good stretch, we were okay. But they took the lead right back on the power play, and right after we had a bad turnover that led to a breakaway.
“I think 5-on-5 we were okay tonight but obviously, [Canton] is a good hockey team, you can’t make mistakes against them. I didn’t think we played our best and I would have liked to see us play more 5-on-5 hockey but giving them the momentum right back certainly hurt us.”
King Philip had a chance to answer when it went on the man-advantage less than two minutes after Canton’s second goal, but instead, it was the Bulldogs that struck. Hagan took advantage of a turnover in the neutral zone, used his speed to race across the blue line and fired a low shot five-hole for a shorthanded tally, giving the Dogs a 3-1 lead with 6:50 left in the second.
“Getting Chris Lavoie back on the power play particularly, having that third option is really important,” Shuman said. “Ironically, those are two guys [Owen and Eamon] that often times don’t touch the puck as much. Owen did a great job taking the ice he was given and Eamon doing what we preach all the time, going with his stick to the net and he made a good play.”
The Warriors had another chance to cut into the lead late in the period on a power play chance. A loose puck popped right in front to Conor Cooke and his shot looked destined for the back of the net but Cammarata made a terrific stop to keep the two-goal lead.
KP couldn’t convert on an early power play chance in the third period and junior David Lawler blasted a shot from the blue line that saw a rebound bounce around in front, but no one on KP could get a stick to it.
Canton made the visitors pay, scoring just before the midway mark of the third period. Ronan O’Mahony took and pass from Jack Connolly and laced a low shot through traffic from the blue line that Makudera stopped but Marshall was quick to pounce on the loose puck and buried it for a 4-1 lead.
With just under three minutes to go, Hagan skated in down the left boards and fired a shot that was stopped by Makudera but once again the Bulldogs were there for the rebound and Kelly tapped it in for a 5-1 advantage.
“The third was our best period, we talked about the next goal (in the third) was huge,” Shuman said. “If they scored, they’d have a ton of energy and be back in the game. Or if we got it, we’d take a huge step towards winning the game. The fourth one came from a good shot, the defense made a good play, and Shane buried it.”