CANTON, Mass. – The final score was in no way indicative of the type of game it had been, but the end result was the same as last year for Mansfield against Xaverian in the opening round of the Div. 1 South tournament at the Canton Ice House.
The Hawks tacked on three goals in the final 1:02 of the game, including an empty net goal and one with six seconds on the clock, to add gloss to a 6-2 scoreline and knock the Hornets out of the playoffs for the second straight season.
“They played very disciplined hockey and they capitalized on our mistakes,” explained Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini. “It’s been a tough struggle with that all year, but I thought we battled back. I thought we played really well all three periods. We played with the same intensity with the lead and without the lead.”
Mansfield (9-7-5) came into this year’s game as the nine seed and Xaverian as the eight, a reversal of last season, and the game played out as these match-ups typically do. The game was end-to-end, hard-hitting, and tight.
Ryan Pomposelli had the game’s first chance straight off a draw but his point-blank effort was saved by Mansfield goalie Sean McCafferty at the near post. Two minutes later, the Hornets nearly took the lead with a shot from beyond the blue line by Jake Lund that took a slight deflection in front and turned into an awkward blocker save for A.J. Scott, who played at Stoughton last year.
McCafferty came up with a kick save to deny Ross Vona midway through the first and Scott was called upon to stop a backhanded effort by Cullin Anastasia. With four minutes left in the first, the Hornets took advantage of a power play opportunity to take the lead. Tyler Oakley’s shot from the point was tipped in front by Patrick McCafferty, giving Scott no chance.
“One of the things we talked about was getting off to a good start and playing with the lead and we did,” said Balzarini. “They outshot us in the first period but we were able to capitalize.”
The lead was doubled early in the second. Freshman Matty Copponi skated past his marker on the left side of the goal and attempted to saucer a pass in front to Coleman O’Brien but instead, the puck took a deflection and slid under the pads of the Xaverian goalie.
There was a delay before the officials signaled for a goal and then Scott argued that the net had been dislodged prior to the puck crossing the line. After a conversation between the officials, the goal stood and Mansfield had the 2-0 advantage.
“The ref was right there and he called it a good goal,” said Balzarini, “and that seemed to pick us up even more. We played with the same intensity all three periods, but they’re a good team.”
The Hornets could have added a third on two occasions. Dylan Tivnan forced Scott into a shoulder save with a wrister from the left circle after a quick transition and then Anastasia put the puck into the crease where a scrum of bodies was located but no one was able to find the necessary touch to knock it in.
Xaverian had speed to bother the Hornets, but generally, the defensemen, led by Tim Arnold and Oakley, were able to keep the Hawks to the outside and limit their chances. With 1:16 left in the second, Xaverian finally managed to get on the board. Pomposelli got a third bite of the apple from the edge of the crease and managed to lift it over the leg of the sprawling McCafferty, who had already made two saves in the sequence.
The goal gave the Hawks a little energy, but they took a penalty that appeared to give the impetus back to Mansfield. Unfortunately for the Hornets, a mix-up on an offensive zone face-off led to a tying goal. The puck could not be held in at the blue line and Josh Barton was on it in a flash, creating a shorthanded breakaway that made it 2-2 with just 15.2 on the clock.
Balzarini remarked, “It was just a miscommunication. We didn’t get the puck in deep on the first one and they were able to come down through transition in the neutral zone and on the second one we had a lefty on the right point and it got by him but, it happens and they capitalized.”
The momentum carried over into the third period. Xaverian quickly took control again and Austin Ricker was forced to give up a power play in order to stop a breakaway opportunity. On the power play, the Hawks crashed the net and, again after a couple of McCafferty saves, Matt Ryan was able to punch across the go-ahead goal.
Mansfield was struggling to create scoring chances against the organized Xaverian defense, which was clogging the shooting lanes. The Hornets only put five shots on goal in the third, although Patrick McCafferty did have a breakaway chance with six minutes to play that was saved by Scott.
With 1:02 remaining, as people were waiting to see when Mansfield would pull its goalie, Xaverian got a quick breakout of the zone and Matt Talarico scored to seal the win. An empty netter and a goal with barely any time on the clock would make the score far more lopsided than was the action on the ice.
Balzarini said, “They just kept coming and coming, but I thought player for player we hung right with them. It wasn’t a 6-2 game. I’m very proud of them.”
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