BOURNE, Mass. – A rebuilding year? Think again.
After graduating 21 seniors from a squad that made a historic run to the Super 8 tournament, there were plenty of questions surrounding this year’s Franklin hockey team.
But those questions have now been answered and this year’s group of Panthers made history themselves, beating Marshfield 3-1 in the D1 South Sectional Final. It marks the program’s first D1 sectional crown just in just its third season at that level.
“People were saying this was a rebuilding year but the guys in the locker room and me, we knew this wasn’t a rebuilding year,” junior forward Adam Assad said. “We were going to get out here and do our best and try to win it.”
Assad scored two goals in the game, including the game-winner late in the second period and an empty netter from his own blue line. Senior Sean Hedvig had the game-tying goal in the second period, just his second goal of the season.
“It’s all about playing hard and believing in themselves,” Franklin head coach Chris Spillane said. “We have a lot of character guys. We’re not going to beat teams by going 200 feet flash, but we’re going to work for every inch that they’re going to take from us. It was just a perfect game plan for us. We got up by a goal and we just played smart. We had two guys high, we didn’t want them to open the ice surface and go back and forth.
“We made them earn every inch of ice and it worked to our favor. It wasn’t pretty in the third period just dumping the puck in but the ultimate goal was to win the hockey game and I thought that was our best opportunity to get it done. Credit to the boys in the locker room, they did a fantastic job.”
Franklin faced a 1-0 deficit after the first period of play despite outshooting the Rams. Marshfield’s Aidan Connolly picked a pass out of the air in the Franklin defensive zone, passed it to Hunter McCauley, who walked in alone. He fanned on his first shot attempt which put Franklin goalie Nick Jasinkski out of position and McCauley slipped it in five hole.
“That was a tough turnover, the kid picked it out of the air. Then the other kid fans on the first shot and Nick’s going with it and it opened up five hole and he made a nice shot,” Spillane said. “You’re going to have those in games so credit to Marshfield. But we definitely we minimized their opportunities and we didn’t have many mistakes as probably they wanted. I thought we played great hockey, we definitely minimized our own mistakes.”
But from then on, Franklin seemed to be in control. It look the Panthers less than three minutes in the second period to tie the game, and they did it via their third line.
Sophomore Brendan O’Rielly dug a puck out of the corner and found junior James Kilroe. Kilroe immediately turned and dished a pass right in front and Hedvig hammered home the oner timer to tie the game.
“You need guys to step up,” Spillane said of the third line. “Sean Hedvig stepped up and a nice pass from James Kilroe. I think they might be Sean’s second or third goal all year. We couldn’t skate two lines from start to finish against a team like this, we would have been gassed. So we found the opportunity to match our line with their third line and we liked that. I thought they did a great job. They carried the play mostly in the offensive zone. If we can get a breather and get them out there and still be in the offensive zone, that’s good hockey for Franklin.”
“It’s freaking awesome,” Assad added of the third line contributions. “I just love when the coach calls third line because they get out there and they bust their (butts) and they got a goal. It was well deserved.”
Later in the second, a big hit from sophomore Jeremy Miller in the offensive zone forced a loose puck to squirt out to Alec Gilliatt. Gilliatt skated to the middle of the offensive zone, passed it back to Miller – who spun to collect it and dished a backhand pass almost all in one motion to find Assad. Assad’s backhander in the crease was initially stopped by Marshfield goalie Nick Young but the junior kept with it and put home the rebound chance.
“He stoned me on the first one and I just kept on fighting and just put it in,” Assad said, noting he wasn’t really expecting the pass from Miller. “I’m surprised I caught [the pass].”
The third period was scoreless for nearly the entire 15 minutes but there was plenty of drama.
Inside the first 30 seconds, Assad nearly had himself a second goal when he broke past a fall defender but his wrist shot sailed wide as he came across the goal.
Just over midway through the period, Marshfield’s Chris Sullivan’s bomb rang off the crossbar but Franklin was able to deal with the rebound.
With just over a minute to go, a slap shot from the Rams’ super sophomore Neil Shea was batted down by Jasinski but right into the middle to Andrew Fithian. The puck trickled to the goal line and Franklin senior Joe Corsi launched himself into the net as freshman Kevin MacKay took possession right on the red line and cleared it out.
Marshfield pulled its goalie and called a timeout but the Panthers were able to hold on for the final minute. After a shot went wide in the offensive zone, Assad picked off a pass, skated to his own blue line and fired it the length of the rink while falling down to ice the game.
“This is amazing, a dream come true,” Assad said. “No one thought we were gonna do this and it’s nice to prove people wrong.”
Franklin now improves to 17-4-5 overall and has scored nine goals in four playoff games with just two allowed. The Panthers return to the TD Garden for the fourth time in six years after having a three year run while in Division 2.
When asked if this was the most unexpected run he’s had to the Garden, Spillane said, “Yeah and no. I think when you look back at teams I’ve had, I’ve had some really outstanding hockey teams that should have been in the Garden but didn’t get there because they just didn’t have that intangible, that intestinal fortitude to go out and play. This team just has that. To win with the schedule we had, to end up with only four losses is such a credit to them.
“Initially I’d say this has been surprising but at the end of the day it really isn’t because you have to take into account the character of those 22 kids in that locker room. It’s a credit to our program. We were in the Super 8 last year and everyone else said this was a rebuilding year. But our kids were like ‘No, this is our year.’ And they’ve made it one hell of a year for us.”
The Panthers will look to turn their fortune around when they play the North champion at the TD Garden on Sunday, March 20th. The time is still to be determined. St. Mary’s (20-5) and Arlington Catholic (11-7-4) square off in the North title came on Monday night.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.
Ryan Lanigan is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of HockomockSports.com. You can contact him at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and follow him on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.