FRANKLIN, Mass. – There is not a single player that took the ice for Franklin on Wednesday night that had ever played against perennial power Malden Catholic. The game was billed as a rematch of last year’s Super 8 first round but in truth it was more of a learning experience, a building block for the Panthers.
With a Div. 1 tournament berth locked up and a fifth straight Kelley-Rex division title already sewn up, the Panthers used the exclusion game against the Lancers at Pirelli Veterans Memorial Rink as preparation for the playoffs.
Although the Lancers skated away with a 6-0 victory, the chance to play the No. 2 team in the state could be a boost for Franklin.
“They’re stronger, faster. No doubt about it,” said Franklin coach Chris Spillane. “Every 50-50 battle they won. They’re good with puck possession and they’re faster.”
“Hopefully we see that this level is how we have to play.”
At the start of the game, Franklin matched the speed of the Lancers and came out with enough energy to get MC back on its heels. The Panthers went on the power play just 1:02 into the game and had five early shots on goal.
Unfortunately for Franklin, the initial burst of energy could not be sustained against the Lancers edge in speed and their ability to move the puck from back to front quickly. An early breakaway Justin Collins was a warning of what was to come, but Nick Jasinski made a kick save to deny the opening goal.
“In the first five minutes, we had a power play and had a couple shots on net and I was thinking okay let’s get one here and see what happens,” said Spillane.
He added, “If we play like we did in the first period during the final stretch than we’ll be fine and we’ll compete in the tournament. You’re not going to see too many teams of that caliber.”
MC dominated the second period, outshooting the Panthers 13-3 and scoring three goals, although it took nearly 10 minutes of the second before finally finding the back of the net. When they did, the Lancers took no time at all to find a second.
Nick Botticelli got the first with a burst down the right side and a wrister from the circle that squeezed just inside the arm of Jasinski. Only 41 seconds later and the lead was doubled through Colin Nestor, who found a loose puck in the slot and fired it home. With 1:08 left in the period, Cam Walter poked home a rebound that was lying just under Jasinski’s pad to make it 3-0.
“We play them every year and we seem to hang tough for a period but then that first goal comes,” said Spillane. “I saw it coming tonight but I just wish our guys could’ve popped one in to give them a little more confidence.”
Franklin managed to get the opening five shots of the third period. Sophomore Jeremy Miller continued his stellar season by creating a few chances including one shot from the slot that forced a nice kick save from MC goalie Kyle Casey. Senior defenseman Tyler Oakes also jumped into the play for a shot.
Once again, the Lancers scored in bunches and this time put the game away. Ryan Noonan scored on a two on one off an assist by Sean Wrenn and then just 16 seconds later Walter got his second of the night from an acute angle to make it 5-0. Nestor pounced again with a minute remaining to close out the scoring.
Playing MC is about taking the game to the next level and for a Franklin roster filled with youth, this was a good lesson in what it will take to get ready for the tournament.
Spillane explained, “The only thing I told them in the locker room was that you need to have an internal clock because once you get to three its to going to be knocked away or they’re going to back check you.”
It was also an exclusion game, so the Panthers will not lose ground in seeding for the tournament by challenging themselves against the best.
“If we keep playing them then one time we’ll beat them and I can say we’re not playing anymore,” Spillane joked. “Until that time comes we’re going to keep playing them.”
Franklin (10-4-3, 7-0-2) will travel to face St. John’s (Shrewsbury) on Saturday.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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