LIVE BLOG: MIAA Final 4 (Semifinals)

Lowell, MA – MassNZ is here at Tsongas Center in Lowell as three teams will be punching their tickets to the TD Garden on Sunday, March 19. We will kick off with a 1pm D3 semifinal: the 10th-seeded Vikings of Triton are taking on the 11th-seeded Wolves of Nashoba. Next is a 3:30pm puck drop between D1 top-seeded defending Champs, the Eagles of St. John’s Prep taking on 4th-seeded Cardinals of Pope Francis. We wrap with another D1 Semifinal at 5:30pm as the 7th-seeded Hawks of Xaverian will face the 14th-seeded Rockets of Reading. This promises to be an exciting day at Tsongas – keep it locked here and keep hitting that refresh button to stay up-to-date on the proceedings!

Semifinal 1: Triton Regional vs Nashoba Regional

Both fan sections settled in early, taking up entire loge sections, the Triton fans all wearing high visibility construction garb and the Nashoba faithful embracing the “come as you are” theme. The first period got off to a fast start: just 49 seconds in and we already had a goal. Freshman Nashoba defender Nate Carter saw a lane to the net from the blue line and fired a shot through that generated a rebound at the left post that senior forward Ryan May was able to bang home past the Triton goalie: 1-0 Wolves early. From here Nashoba rode the wave of momentum and were creating lots of chances, winning races to the puck and maintaining consistent attacking zone pressure. Five minutes later and they would double their lead. A slick rush by star senior defender Dillan Lowe led to a shot between two defenders in the slot that rolled over the goalie’s glove and into the net for a 2-0 Wolves lead. After that second goal Triton began to push back and that led to their best chances offensively of the period. They would not be able to put one past the Wolves goalie and our score after 1 would be Nashoba 2, Triton 0.

In the middle frame, Triton made a strong push from the opening faceoff, they picked up their pace and were buzzing in the attacking zone. They were quick to swarm puck carriers and were able to limit zone time for the Wolves. They had a couple of quality looks in the first couple of minutes, but their progress would be halted by a penalty in the third minute. Nashoba capitalized by getting the puck down low as May took an initial shot that senior scorer Joey Quinn was able to collect on the rebound and slip through the pads on the rebound to make it 3-0 Nashoba, 3:41 into the period. Full credit to Triton as they remained steadfast in pushing in the attacking zone. Their zone exits were cleaner and they were able to set up in the zone cleanly to put better shots on net. The only issue is that junior Nashoba goalie Charlie Mattocks was equal to every shot. We would end the period with the score Nashoba 3, Triton 0. The Vikings would need to take their game to another level to advance.

In the final period, Triton came out strong once again to start the period and they were able to establish a presence in the attacking zone as a result of a late 2nd period penalty called on Nashoba. They were unable to get a quality look on the man advantage, but the “vulnerable minute” as Jack Edwards would say, paid dividends. Sophomore forward Josh Hersey fired a shot from the top of the right circle and it took a wicked deflection off a defender’s stick and landed squarely on the tape of the waiting sophomore Mason Colby who deposited it before Mattocks could get set: 3-1 was our score. With only two minutes elapsed in the third, it gave Triton ample time to attempt a comeback, but credit to Nashoba as they tightened the neutral zone and made some smart stick plays to create turnovers and the possession started to tilt back in their direction the deeper we got into this frame. Nashoba had a breakaway that could have put this game away but sophomore Gavin Marengi was able to kick it out and on we went. Nashoba continued to own the possession and as we hit the final five minutes they were in control. Triton called a timeout with just over two minutes remaining and would pull the goalie shortly thereafter, which Nashoba took advantage of as Lowe fired in an empty-netter from the red line. The final would be Nashoba 4, Triton 1. The Wolves advance to face Scituate at TD Garden on March 19: time TBD (likely to be disclosed tomorrow morning).

Three Stars:

  1. D Dillan Lowe, Nashoba Regional
  2. F Ryan May, Nashoba Regional
  3. F Joey Quinn, Nashoba Regional


Semifinal 2: St. John’s Prep vs Pope Francis

Even before this game got started, there was a palpable buzz in the crowd as everyone filed in. The St. John’s Prep students were decked out in Hawaiian shirts whereas the Pope Francis students went with a USA theme – all dressed in red, white and blue. Both were vocal pregame and it rolled right into the opening puck drop with chants battling back and forth. On the ice, this was one of the smartest and most well-executed periods of hockey we have seen all season long. Both teams were able to make good offensive decisions and they both made stout defensive plays as well. The bulk of the pressure in the opening 15 belonged to the Eagles who peppered sophomore starter Nick Ritchie for Pope Francis. Ritchie was calm, cool and collected and reacted quickly to the puck: making every stop for the Cardinals. The Prep was able to tilt the ice in the early minutes and made some nice seam passes, but Ritchie anticipated the shots to shut them down. Pope was able to get their skating legs engaged deeper into the period and created their best looks off the rush, but senior goalie Brian Cronin was equal to the task, stopping everything that came his way. His reaction times were quick and he read plays well as they developed. All of this is to say: neither team was able to score in the first: we are scoreless after 1.

The middle frame featured more of the same great setup plays, reads and good positioning by both teams. There were minimal mistakes on both sides and each was able to protect the puck well to prevent transition plays from becoming bigger issues. Pope Francis held more of the play in this period and they put the most consistent pressure on Cronin that they have had all game, but once again he was able to turn away every shot: reading and reacting quickly and pulling the puck right into the bread basket. There was not a great deal of action in the Pope Francis defensive end, but the Eagles were able to put a couple of quality shots on net from distance that Ritchie was able to pounce on and get a quick whistle. The first penalty of the game was assessed to St. John’s Prep with four minutes to go and despite some great set plays and a couple of quality looks by Pope Francis, we headed back to the locker rooms scoreless yet again. We would need 15 more minutes to see if someone could crack the scoresheet…

In the final period, it was much the same as we had seen in the previous two periods as there were great plays at both ends and neither team really grabbed the upper hand until late. Each team had quality scoring chances in between staunch neutral zone and defensive zone play. However, the tie would be broken just after the halfway mark as senior Pope Francis captain Ryan O’Leary made a great play off the wing to take ice and move in for a better shot. He fired it off the pad of Cronin and sophomore Nick Petkovich was open at the left post and snuck it past the pad of Cronin to make it 1-0 Cardinals. The press box was quite literally shaking after the goal as the Pope fans were directly below us and they were going bonkers. There were still six minutes remaining to play and Prep made a hard push back and created a number of good looks in the slot and around the net: but Ritchie was always there to cover. With 1:46 remaining the Eagles called a timeout and went over their strategy. Shortly after the TO, they generated a couple of their best shots and rebound opportunities but Ritchie was able to get himself in position to shut them down. The Eagles then pulled their goalie for the extra attacker but it was not enough as Pope Francis would upset the top seed and punch their ticket to TD Garden on March 19. Who would they face? We would find out after the next game.

Three Stars:

  1. G Nick Ritchie, Pope Francis
  2. F Nick Petkovich, Pope Francis
  3. D Aidan Holland, St. John’s Prep


Semifinal 3: Reading vs Xaverian

This game might have featured the best crowd battle we’ve seen all season as Reading’s fan section took up nearly half of the loge section on the press box side of the ice and at nearly two sections were filled with Reading students alone, all dressed in black, many wearing black war paint. Interestingly, Xaverian’s student section was also dressed in all black with war paint and they filled a full section on the opposite side of the ice. Both sets of fans were very vocal from the start and you could tell this game would be a powder keg until someone scored. In the early minutes of the first period the nerves were evident on both teams: lots of missed passes, overskating the puck and a few shots wide of the cage. As we moved on things began to sharpen, but ultimately there were limited shots on goal between both teams. There were a couple of rebound looks that produced oohs and aahs, but both goalies were able to keep the zeroes on the board. After 1: it was still scoreless.

In the middle frame, the play intensified and both teams drew closer to the game’s first goal. We saw Xaverian put a shot on junior goalie Chris Hanifan that just trickled wide of the right post and conversely there was a juicy rebound that Reading could not convert on the other end as Cole Pouliot-Porter stood tall. The physicality has been evident all game and it showed up again in the second as both teams delivered big blows to fire up their fan sections. The majority of the offensive chances in that period belonged to Reading as they doubled up the Hawks in shots 10-5. Despite the disparity, we would end the frame still tied at 0-0.

In the third period, once again it was an even battle as both teams were tough through the middle and denying clean zone entries. Reading had the best opportunities through odd-man rushes and with some slick area passes to set up linemates but none were able to get by Pouliot-Porter. Xaverian had a couple of quality looks near the cage, but Reading’s defensive sticks were able to clean up the loose change around Hanifan. Shots in the period were 13-9 in favor of Reading and yes, we were still deadlocked at 0-0. On we go to 4×4 OT…

In the overtime period the open ice led to a few more chances and that led to more squirrely moments for both goalies as Reading started the OT with a couple of quick shots on net in the first minute. Things began to settle a bit over the next minute, but it would soon be over in the third minute. Senior sniper Joe DiMartino did more DiMartino Things as he absolutely sniped a shot from the slot past Hanifan on the rush, unassisted. That brought the crowd to its feet and the Hawks Nest went berserk. That would end the D1 Semifinal as a 1-0 final and the Hawks would advance to face Pope Francis for the ‘Ship.

Three Stars:

  1. F Joe DiMartino, Xaverian
  2. G Cole Pouliot-Porter, Xaverian
  3. G Chris Hanifan, Reading