WOONSOCKET, R.I. – For the second time in three seasons, Franklin reached the championship game of the Mount St. Charles Holiday Face-Off at the venerable Adelard Arena and for the second time the Panthers were unable to come up with a third win in three days to claim the first place trophy.
Joe Mancini of Fairfield Prep (Conn.) scored his second goal of the game with 3:37 remaining in the second overtime to give the Jesuits the 3-2 victory in a game that featured non-stop, end-to-end action right from the opening face-off.
“I’m happy with the effort for sure,” said Franklin coach Chris Spillane, whose team does take home a point, as the game will be officially recorded as a 2-2 tie for MIAA purposes. “Three games in three days and all three were sort of like this; nothing was easy here.
“So, at the end of the day we were happy with what we got. Sure, it’s a nice moral boost to get the victory, but we sort of ran out of gas. You could see that three days of hockey took its toll.”
The Panthers came out flying in the first period, dictating play, winning battles in the corners on both ends of the ice, out-skating Prep, and creating a host of scoring opportunities. Franklin held a 13-7 edge in shots after the first and had each of its first three lines contribute.
Junior Matt Holmes had Franklin’s first chance just two minutes into the game with a shot from the slot off a pass by T.J. Durkin that was saved by Prep goalie Jack McGee. Dan Magazu had a chance just seconds later off a Luke Downie feed but McGee gloved the shot to keep it scoreless.
The Panthers broke the deadlock with 5:08 left in the first. Durkin dug out the puck from the corner and slipped it from behind the net out in front to senior Brendan O’Rielly, who pulled it across the crease to his backhand and buried the shot high to the glove side.
Despite Franklin’s dominance, the Jesuits managed to create one great scoring chance with a minute to go in the period and pounced. A turnover in the attacking zone turned into a quick break and an odd-man rush for Prep, which Mancini finished off to tie the game at 1-1.
“We had one breakdown and they capitalized on it,” said Spillane. “We left a few goals on the table and that would’ve been a huge boost for us to score a couple of goals, but that’s the way the puck bounces.”
There is no break in between periods, as Adelard Arena only cleans the ice in the second intermission. The teams barely had a chance to get water let alone talk things over and the new period started. Spillane admitted that it was something the Panthers had to be concerned with.
He said, “It’s hard. We’re used to getting on a fresh sheet of ice and, if speed is our game, then we want a fresh sheet of ice. We’ve been down here long enough that we adapted, we expect it.”
The old ice worked just fine for the Jesuits. Having scored with a minute left in the first period, Prep took its first lead just a minute into the second. Franklin’s defense was caught pinching in at the blue line and Fairfield got another two-on-one break that Kevin Oricoli took advantage of with a snipe under the bar.
The Panthers nearly tied the game three minutes later when junior Joe Lizzotte stole the puck in the neutral zone on the penalty kill and skated in for a shorthanded breakaway, but McGee was able to deny the forward at full stretch.
At nearly the same time as the goal he scored in the first period, O’Rielly popped up with his second of the night to level things up. Downie was credited with the assist, although it appeared to be Magazu that was crashing the goal, when his shot was parried by McGee right to O’Rielly, who did not miss the chance.
“They were solid,” Spillane remarked about the Panthers top scoring line. “Bubba (O’Rielly) had two goals and I think Luke had two goals the night before that. It’s a nice balance and the third and fourth line is starting to feel its confidence growing.”
Franklin nearly grabbed the lead back early in the third period. Junior Zac Falvey skated into the high slot, nearly uncovered, and uncorked a wicked slap shot that hit the inside of the junction between post and crossbar, fell to the ice, and skidded straight across the mouth of the goal with McGee stranded.
Connor Norton had a shot from the point saved just a few minutes later and the rebound fell to Falvey, but this time the junior’s flicked backhand somehow looped narrowly above the bar.
After being just an inch away from the lead, the Panthers started to fade and Prep started to take control of play. The Jesuits held a 10-5 edge in shots in the third and put increasing pressure on Franklin goalie Owen Ginley (36 saves). The senior netminder came through with a series of solid stops including a glove save to rob Mancini with a few minutes left.
Prep continued the momentum into overtime and Ginley was called on for another spectacular stop with just three seconds left, going post-to-post to get a pad on a Ryan Eckert shot after a saucer pass across the crease by Mancini.
It was Mancini that knocked in the winner during the 4-on-4 second overtime. The Panthers lost the puck in the defensive zone and the puck was played across the goal to Mancini and he scored with a one-time to win the title.
“That last goal, it was a nice smart play by their forward to give it to the open guy, they caught us in a change, and we were gassed,” Spillane explained.
Franklin beat LaSalle College (Pa.) and Bishop Guertin (R.I.) to reach the final game. A lot has been made of the Panthers being the lone public school program in the eight-team field, but Spillane played down the importance of representing public school hockey.
He said, “You could say it’s a feather in our cap but at the end of the day they’re all 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids playing a sport they love. It was great competition and we fit right in. That tells me that we’re a pretty good program consistently and we’ve been doing it year-in, year-out.”
Spillane added, “We’ve been here long enough, now we’ve just got to get that third win.”
Franklin (5-1-1) will get a week break before getting back on the ice to open Hockomock League play against Stoughton on Jan. 6.