By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Heading into their first Hockomock game of the season, the Panthers seem to have solidified the blue line, but there are still question marks about who will provide the goals for the defending league champs.
On Wednesday night at Pirelli Veterans Arena, senior Jake Downie and sophomore Jeremy Miller provided the offensive punch. The second line forwards contributed four goals and two assists to propel the Panthers to a 5-0 victory over visiting Oliver Ames.
“Those two guys have been pretty consistent for us,” said Franklin coach Chris Spillane about Downie and Miller, who have been the team’s top scorers this season.
While he praised his second line for its production, he also added, “We need to rely on our first line a little more. If you’re going to have success then you need to have three lines contributing and right now we sort of have one going for us.”
The first line of Adam Assad, Alec Gilliatt, and Alex Bissanti started the game well, despite not having played in a full week due to a postponement on Saturday. Just four minutes in, Assad was robbed by a Zach Walsh kick save and just about three minutes later Gillatt set up Bissanti but Walsh went post to post to deny the point-blank chance.
The Panthers dominated the first period, but could not find a way past Walsh. The sophomore made 11 of his 30 saves in the first and kept the Tigers in the game. But, in the second, Franklin finally found the breakthrough.
A shot from the point by Stanley Carter was knocked down by Walsh and the puck sat in the crease for a second before Miller smartly tapped it to the left to a wide open Downie to finish into the open net.
“The defense threw it at the net,” said Miller, “and I was just kind of in front battling and he was where he was supposed to be on the back door.”
Downie added, “I was in the right spot and it just happened to pop out to me.”
Although the Tigers only managed five shots in all three periods and spent long stretches in the defensive zone, OA had several scoring chances. Senior Ben Litwack was left alone in the slot with four minutes left in the first but his shot was right into the pads of Nick Jasinski and early in the second Jared Costello sped forward and forced the goalie into another good kick save.
“At 1-0, they had some great chances and it easily could’ve been a 2-1 game for them,” said Spillane. “Nick’s been in there all year for us, he’s battle-tested, and he’s been making save after save for us.”
OA coach Mark Homer said, “I thought we were in survival mode too much during the game and maybe that comes with the inexperience we have, but I told the guys I don’t care if you’re a freshman or a senior if you’re on this team then we need to perform to their capabilities.”
Assad nearly doubled Franklin’s lead less than two minutes after Downie’s opener, but his great move to get past the defense ended with a shot ringing off the inside of the post.
Just 17 seconds into the third period, OA went on the power play, but the Tigers could not take advantage and did not get a shot on goal. Fifteen seconds after the penalty expired and with OA still pressed forward, a loose puck bounced onto the stick of Downie and he finished his breakaway to make it 2-0.
“It’s unfortunate because that was a good opportunity and we didn’t capitalize,” said Homer of the power play chance.
“The whole night we seemed to be playing too much in our own end. You’re facing a team that’s got fresh legs every shift with three or four lines…you get that energy that gets taken away.”
With 6:11 remaining the floodgates opened for the Panthers and it was another heads up play by Miller that broke it open. Freshman defenseman Kevin McKay fired a shot from the point that was blocked in front and Miller was first to react and flicked a shot past Walsh.
Brendan O’Reilly managed to make it 4-0 on a fluky goal after Walsh had saved the original chance. The puck was cleared off the Franklin player’s leg and looped over the stranded goalie. With just 42.5 left, Downie picked out Miller with a perfect pass on an odd-man rush and the sophomore tapped it in to complete the scoring.
Homer insisted this was a learning experience for the Tigers (3-2, 1-1) early in the season, including for his sophomore netminder, who is trying to fill the pads of graduated goalie Jimmy Tierney.
“He made some good stops early and kept us in the game,” said Homer of Walsh. “We need to work with him on controlling his rebounds because they got a lot off second or third opportunities…and that’s not entirely his fault.”
The Panthers (3-3-1, 1-0) are back to .500 after the win, but Franklin has also played a very difficult schedule that has included perennial powers from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. According to Miller, the early competition has forced Franklin to improve quickly.
“It’s been a huge change,” he explained, “because we came in here and didn’t really know what to expect. We lost a lot of guys last year and so it’s definitely more than anyone expected.”
Spillane agreed there has been progress, but still expects more for Franklin to compete on the level it has come to expect. He said, “I knew we were going to be offensively challenged at the beginning of the year but we just need those guys to step up and finish some goals.”
OA will host Attleboro on Saturday, while Franklin will travel to Foxboro.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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