With Saturday afternoon’s game at the Foxboro Sports Center tied at 2-2 early in the third period, Franklin senior Noah Nasuti turned at the blue line and flung a puck on net. It landed a few feet from goal and bounced on its edge and slid past Mansfield senior goalie Tony Rullo, who finished with 28 saves and had a strong overall game to keep the Hornets in it.
That bounce allowed the Panthers, who seemed nervous at times in the attacking zone, to breathe a little easier. Two late goals, one on the power play and the other into an empty net, sealed a 5-2 victory for Franklin and put an end to a two-game losing streak.
“I know out third goal won’t be making the ‘Top 10’ on Sportscenter, but it was big for us,” said Franklin coach Chris Spillane. “It gave us a little breathing room and we weren’t gripping the sticks so tight and we got into a flow.”
Everyone came into Saturday’s game thinking that Franklin was going to come out flying, motivated by last weekend’s state final rematch loss to St. Mary’s (Lynn) and the shocking loss to Taunton in midweek, which was the first loss for the Panthers in the league since the 2013-14 season. Franklin had not lost twice in the Hock since 2012-13.
Rather than Franklin asserting itself in the first, it was Mansfield that came out stronger and took the lead inside the first five minutes. James Bezeau fed a pass from the half-boards into the middle to a streaking Cullin Anastasia, who had a step on his defender and then slotted his shot five-hole for the opener.
“Everybody’s first shift, we wanted them to make good plays, get the first shot on net, make the first hit, and have them make the first save,” said first-year Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini. “We put in a good 15 minutes of hockey in the first period.”
Franklin had several chances in the first period to try and get the game on level terms. Nasuti had a good chance knocked down by Rullo, Luke Downie had a wrist shot from the left circle snagged and in the final minute Brendan O’Rielly had a one-timer from the slot saved by Rullo as well.
Despite a 9-8 advantage in shots, Spillane was not happy with the way the Panthers started the game. He said, “I expected us to come out in that first period and just explode and we didn’t do that. We have a lot of work in front of us. We haven’t played a full game…It’s hard to figure these guys out.”
The Panthers picked up the energy in the second period and started to control the play. Downie created a scoring opportunity on the forecheck but shot it into the chest of Rullo. Downie set up James Kilroe for a point-blank chance a couple minutes later but the shot was partially blocked and covered.
Mansfield almost doubled its lead against the run of play when Patrick McCafferty got behind the Franklin defense but his backhand effort was kept out by a combination of Owen Ginley’s shoulder and the post. Rullo then came through with a huge stop, going post-to-post and stretching out a pad to rob Adam Assad after a give-and-go with Jeremy Miller.
The pressure eventually paid off for Franklin with freshman defenseman Colin Oppelt having a shot from the point tipped by Kilroe and the rebound cleaned up by O’Rielly to tie the game. Just 10 seconds later and it was the Panthers in front after Dan Magazu sliding a shot under Rullo’s pads, assisted by Kenny DeMerchant and Jack McGrath.
“[Dan] is a sophomore we don’t play much, but he scores a goal every time we put him out there,” said Spillane. That’s his third goal, so putting players out there like that lets the upperclassmen know their jobs are not secure.”
A minute later, Mansfield tied the score again. After a scramble in front of Ginley, freshman Chris Jenkins got the final touch (Cullen Murphy was credited on the score sheet) to make it 2-2, despite the Hornets being outshot 12-7 in the period.
“The issue in the second period was that we played their game; we didn’t play our game,” said Balazarini. “We were flooding the neutral zone, taking away their D-to-D pass, and then we kind of strayed away from that.”
Franklin got the break it needed 2:24 into the third period, when Nasuti saw his shot find the back of the net.
“It’s tough,” Balzarini said. “They were getting pucks to the net from everywhere. They did a good job at that. It is what it is. That’s hockey. But we didn’t stop and we had some good chances.”
The Panthers were on top on the scoreboard and on the ice, but Mansfield had its chances to get back into the game. Matt Farragher twice in the span of a minute came flying down the right wing and had a shot from the edge of the circle but Ginley (22 saves) was able to glove one and stand tall to stop the other.
Franklin doubled its lead on the power play with 2:09 remaining. Assad pushed the puck to Miller behind the goal and dashed to the net. Miller passed it back out in front and Assad roofed it for a 4-2 lead. O’Rielly made sure of the two points with an empty net goal (his second) in the final minute.
“I like the way we competed in the second and third periods,” said Spillane. “Our forecheck really came to life, our speed jumped out, and the goals came, but that should be consistent every game, every shift.”
After a trying week, Spillane was happy to see the Panthers bounce off their uncustomary position at the bottom of the league standings. He said, “I think we’re going to see this every game in the Hockomock League. Once the message was sent that they’re beatable. we’re going to get everyone’s ‘A’ game. There’s no gimmes, at least not for us.”
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