D1 North Final: Belmont Heads to the Garden – Wins it Late 3-2 over SJS

Lowell, MA – And then there were two. It was down to the Marauders of Belmont and the Pioneers of St. John’s Shrewsbury facing off to determine who would play at the TD Garden on Sunday against Walpole in the D1 Final. This promised to be an intriguing matchup of teams who play smart and balanced hockey, with solid goaltending mixed in as well. 45 minutes to crown a champion…

In the first period, St. John’s Shrewsbury came out like a house on fire and pinned Belmont deep in their own end in the first minute. It didn’t take long to break the seal as junior defenseman Mitchell Albert threw the puck towards the net but it was blocked in the slot. Luckily senior captain Matt Myers was there to grab the puck with his back turned to the net. He spun around, found soft ice and fired the puck taking advantage of a screen: 1-0 Pioneers. After that, the Pioneers continued to put pressure on Belmont but luckily for the Marauders that was all they would score. Belmont did create some pressure of their own off a power play and some hard work along the walls but the Pioneers took back the reins again as the period came to a close.

In the second period, Belmont turned the game around and took the play to SJS, outshooting them 17-7 throughout the frame. Just under seven minutes into the period junior attacker Ben Fici put the puck on net and senior Justin Rocha attempted to shovel it home but it squirted right to senior captain Matt Brody who roofed it to tie the score 1-1, sending the student section into a frenzy. Both teams has chances on the man advantage but neither was able to capitalize. After 30 minutes nothing was settled, onto the third we went.

In the final frame, SJS seemed to have some extra motivation before the team took the ice as they were a bit delayed to appear, with what we can only assume was an impassioned locker room speech. The Pioneers created initial pressure that sustained until midway through the period when the real action started. With seven minutes elapsed forward Max Shustak created a chance in front by getting loose from his defender and putting a shot on net. Luckily for SJS the puck squirted out to Griffin Burns who ladeled it home past a prone Belmont goalie Nico Carere: 2-1 Pioneers. The student section was beside themselves, banging on the seatbacks in front of them realizing this was the team’s chance to seize the moment, especially when a penalty was called on Belmont a minute later. The Pioneers made one mistake at the blue line which created a shorthand opportunity as Matt Brody carried it to the red line and floated a terrific sneakaway pass to assistant captain Marco Santagati. The senior maintained his poise on the breakaway, waited out the goalie and lifted a backhand by him: tie game at 2-2. This game was a dogfight in the final period with both teams creating chances looking for the final knockout blow. There was a lot of quality defense in order to shutdown chances near the crease at both ends. But ultimately, big-time players make big-time plays when it matters. With just under a minute and a half left in the third, junior defenseman Peter Grace passed the puck up the left wing to junior Ben Fici. The Pioneer defense backed off and gave him a shot lane and he ripped one into the top right corner of the net: 3-2 Marauders. The fan section was dancing in the aisles and the party was on…but not so fast. SJS pulled their goalie right from there and put some great looks on net in an effort to tie it, but Carere stood strong and the Marauders will head to the TD Garden on Sunday to take on a strong defensive squad from Walpole.

Three Stars:

  1. F Ben Fici, Belmont
  2. F Matt Brody, Belmont
  3. F Matt Myers, St. John’s Shrewsbury
    TTPA: F Brendan Doherty, St. John’s Shrewsbury

NZ Notes:

This was a great game to watch as the intrigue continued to build each period because both teams were able to deny so many chances. It was no accident that both teams got here by playing collaborative team defense coupled with timely goal scoring, it just came down to which team could score the most timely goal late in the third period, and that ended up being the Marauders. St. John’s Shrewsbury had a great season, they took on (and beat) a number of Super 8 teams in the regular season, and their physicality allowed them to win pucks and create quick transition and burn opponents. They graduate a strong senior class, but they do have intriguing juniors and underclassmen on the roster for next year. Belmont just seems to find ways to win games, it’s a hackneyed cliche but it’s true. Time and time again during the regular season and the playoffs it looked as though things were bleak late in games, but this team found ways to create smart looks at the net and put tying and game-winning goals up on the board. They are a quick strike offense because they have some playmakers upfront but they can also shut you down on the back end: a complete team and it will be intriguing to see them take on the immovable objects from Walpole.

For St. John’s Shrewsbury, captain Matt Myers capped off his HS career with a nice goal in the slot. He finds open ice, he can stickhandle, he has great speed: there is a lot to like about what he can do offensively. He will be a hot commodity over the summer and won’t have any issue finding a landing spot. Senior Luke DeFlumeri is really fun to watch because he has quick feet and plays at pace: he can scoot around the rink causing havoc at this level. You have to respect the maximum effort put out by senior Brendan Doherty: he left everything he had on the ice tonight. He was in on the forecheck, the backcheck, he was driving to the net, coming off the edge, winning races: he was everywhere tonight – a really nice game by him.

For Belmont, sure scoring goals is exciting, but preventing them is impressive. We nearly lost count of the quality plays made by junior defender Thomas Grace. His ability to read the play, squelch passes and shots and to make clean outlets shortens the game for the Marauders. He was being double shifted early in the game and his cool/calm demeanor allowed him to compartmentalize every play and not get too overwhelmed for the moment. Keep an eye on his progress. Obviously we have talked about Ben Fici before for his offensive ability, but he is no shrinking violet either. In the second period, he pancaked an SJS player which fired up the crowd and caught the attention of the SJS team captain who gave him a healthy bump. Don’t sleep on sophomore Matty Rowan either: his reach and his size make him tough to defend around the net and he is developing a solid A-frame that will only get better with age and added strength.