FRANKLIN, Mass. – When the two teams met way back in the second week of the season, King Philip pulled out a one-goal victory that gave the Warriors momentum at the start of the league campaign. As the final horn sounded on Thursday night’s game at Pirelli Veterans Arena, the Franklin players raced together to celebrate, and the cheering lasted long after the Panthers made their way back to the locker room.
After taking a two goal lead through two periods, Franklin was outshot 11-2 in the third and went on the penalty kill twice, but managed to hold off KP’s charge and pull out a 2-1 victory. Franklin’s adds a new dimension to the league standings, as the Panthers face co-leader Canton on Saturday and, with the Warriors and Bulldogs due to face-off next week, have the chance to insert themselves right back in the title mix.
“We’ve had a lot of battles this year,” said first-year Franklin coach Mike Lubin. “Today, we wanted to take those close games, those close ties, close losses, and turn them into wins. We stayed composed. We stuck to our game plan and that’s what I’m proud of them for, the effort, everything from start to finish.”
KP started the game with good puck possession and zone time, but the Panthers managed to limit the Warriors to only two shots on goal over the first five minutes.
One quick transition later and Franklin was in front. Lindsay Atkinson, who missed all of last season with an injury, broke out of the defensive zone and carried the puck across the blue line before feeding it to Julia Flynn. The team’s leading scorer deked KP goalie Mallory Johnston to get a seam and scored with Franklin’s first shot on goal.
“Izzy’s definitely the backbone and then it’s just playing structure,” Lubin said about his defense. “It’s the middle of the season, everyone knows their roles and just the fundamentals of everything we practice all the time. It’s that and then the transition to offense.”
The goal turned the momentum of the game into the home team’s favor. In a first period that featured far more action than you would guess from eight combined shots on goal, the Panthers started to tilt the ice in their favor.
Flynn was a constant menace. She got behind the net and flipped a pass out to Atkinson in the slot, but her shot was high and the second attempt in front went off the post. Molly Hurley then went on a nice rush through the neutral zone, slipping by defenders to force Johnston into a glove save.
“We weren’t picking bodies up in front of the net for the first two periods and they had a ton of shots down there because of it,” said KP coach Ken Assad. “We worked that out in the third period but we need to be more consistent.”
With five minutes to go in the first, Flynn raced up the right wing and fired a pass straight across the crease to Haley Wernig at the back post but the sophomore forward couldn’t get a touch as it went through a crowd of legs. Play turned over and Kelly Holmes sped up the other end, weaving through traffic but putting her shot over the bar.
Franklin came out for the second with more intensity. Hurley had a steal at the defensive blue line and turned it into a chance that Johnston (15 saves) turned aside with the handle of her stick. Johnston came up big again just a couple minutes later when Flynn stole the puck in the right wing circle and tested the goalie’s glove side.
The lead was doubled with 5:21 left in the period. Lindsey Dennett collected the puck on the half boards and skated across the zone to the right wing circle before firing a shot on goal. The puck appeared to take a touch on its way to Johnston and slipped past the goalie to make it 2-0.
KP was changing up its lines trying to find the right combinations. Holmes was the constant for the Warriors, creating chances seemingly every time she was on the ice. The junior forward danced through a couple of defenders to force Franklin goalie Izzy Brown into a save and then put a quick shot on goal right from a face-off that Brown (18 saves) was able to hold.
The message for the Warriors heading into the third period was clear, find more energy and get more pucks to the net.
“I told them they were getting outplayed, out-hustled, outworked,” Assad explained. “I said they need to pick up the intensity, you can’t let them go through you and make all the plays. They talked after I said that and they worked it out. If they played like that in the first two periods, we would’ve been fine.”
Eighth grade defenseman Calleigh Brady made a nice play along the boards to keep the puck in the zone and it turned into a chance for Holmes. Just seconds later, Aaron Wentling made a nice play with the puck and fed Holmes for a shot on target.
KP was definitely playing with more edge in the third and got an extra spark when the first penalty of the night gave them an extra skater. Holmes wasted no time, just 26 seconds into the power play, she slipped by two defenders, put the puck through a third and then roofed her shot from close range to get the Warriors right back into the game with 10:03 to play.
“She’s amazing,” Assad said of Holmes. He noted that as lines got moved around, Holmes found herself on the ice with a couple of KP’s eighth graders. About the young players, he added, “You try to help Kelly out on her line and you tell her they’re going to make passes you’ve never seen before and you’ve got to be ready for them. They’ll get there, they’re smart players, but that’s what you have to deal with.”
Flynn nearly answered back immediately, but her shot came back off the bar. KP got another chance on the power play and went right back to work. Holmes was peppering Brown with shots, but the Franklin goalie kept fighting everything off. The puck was then centered right into the edge of the crease for Mara Boldy to try her luck, but Brown was again up to the task.
Despite having the significant edge in chances in the third, KP only managed the one goal and Franklin was able to skate away with the big win.
“It was really just sticking to our game plan, nothing too crazy,” Lubin said about the effort down the stretch. “They can get a bit excited and I think it was just keeping that composure and playing those 45 minutes all the way through. It’s just playing good disciplined hockey. I’m happy with how they played together today.”
Franklin (5-7-3, 2-2-0) has an opportunity to make things very interesting in the league title race, and set up the possibility of a three-way tie, if it can beat Canton on Saturday night at the Metropolis Rink. The teams went to overtime in the first meeting. King Philip (6-8-0, 3-1-0) still controls its own destiny and would win its first title if it beats the Hockomock Stars on Saturday and Canton next Wednesday night.