BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. – There will be a new Division 1 state champion this winter, as Franklin hockey saw its title defense come to a close on Sunday afternoon at Gallo Ice Arena with a 3-0 quarterfinal loss to Framingham.
All season long, the Panthers (14-9-1) have played with a target on their backs following last year’s historic run to the state title. Franklin battled through that adversity to win 14 games and claim another Kelley-Rex division crown, Saturday’s defeat means there will be no repeat for the program, which has made quite a bit of noise in its short time in Div. 1.
“At the beginning of the season, we talked about we need to come with our best every night or we’re not going to win hockey games because we’re going to get everyone’s best,” said Franklin coach Chris Spillane, who finishes the season 10 wins shy of 300 for his career.
He continued, “We’ve had a bullseye on our back for sure. We’ve handled it really well at times and at other times we didn’t handle it so well.”
The Panthers handled it pretty well against the Flyers, outshooting Framingham 26-23 for the game and dominating play in the second period. Franklin just could not find the final touch to get a puck past Framingham goalie Alex Moore.
“I thought we played pretty well tonight,” said Spillane. “The hockey gods were not on our side tonight. We had a lot of looks, we had a couple of open nets that we didn’t bury. At the end of the day you need to score those goals.”
Adam Assad had the first opportunity for Franklin five minutes into the first period. He got his stick onto a pass by Luke Downie, but Moore blocked it with his pads. Matt Holmes had a chance three minutes later when he got to a rebound from a deflected shot but it was saved. Joe McInnis had the Flyers best chance on the break but Franklin goalie Cam Benham stood tall to block.
Franklin stormed out of the intermission and outshot the Flyers 13-6 in the second period but found itself down by a pair of goals.
Freshman Connor Opelt had a blast from the point saved by Moore early in the period and Jack McGrath had a couple chances to put the puck on net. On the Panthers first power play, Downie sent a rebound shot just wide of an open net. Then Holmes and Assad had a two-on-one rush that ended with Holmes’ shot from the left circle being saved by Moore.
After all that pressure, Framingham caught the Panthers pushing up ice and stunned them with the opening goal. Ben Stefanini broke down the right wing, crossed the blue line, and then cut across the zone before firing a low shot past Benham into the bottom corner.
“Our defense sort of gave up the blue line,” said Spillane. “He took it, came across and he had a nice low shot in the corner and caught Cam a little deep in his net. I would’ve like our guys to step up more and maybe not give him that time but we were pressing and we were all over them and then that happened.”
Franklin continued to pressure and had another great chance when Assad received a pass from James Kilroe but again could not beat Moore. With 3:29 left in the second, Framingham got a power play and needed only 10 seconds to make it count. Stefanini found space in the slot and cut a pass against the grain to Mike Tersoni, who roofed his shot for a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers had a minute of power play to start the third period and Spillane said that he talked in the locker room about not panicking and using their experience to battle back.
“We talked about having a solid power play, whether we scored or not,” he said. “We talked about scoring one in the first five minutes. We had some good opportunities in the first five minutes but we didn’t get it and I think giving up that third goal was the backbreaker.”
Brendan O’Rielly had a snap shot that caromed off Moore’s shoulder, but Franklin could not create clear scoring chances. Benham kept the Panthers in it with a blocker save on a blast arrowing to the corner and then robbed Tersoni on a breakaway.
With 2:08 left, the Flyers put it away. McInnis scored off an assist by Tersoni to make it 3-0 and seal the win.
Spillane reflected on the season and the difficulty of being the defending champs.
He said, “We started the season with our best start in a long time…we just hit some roadblocks in the Hockomock League. Obviously, we’d like to be playing still but bottom line it’s so hard to repeat at any level in any sport. I think our program is heading in the right direction.”