by JOSHUA KUMMINS
BOSTON – Pomp and circumstance was in the air on Sunday evening as the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association concluded its annual Division IA Tournament with a bang on TD Garden.
The Malden Catholic Lancers and Austin Prep Cougars went forward and back throughout the contest, but it was the bunch experienced on the big stage that pulled away in the end, earning a 3-2 victory for their third Super Eight title in as many years.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Lancer sophomore Ara Nazarian, who scored his team-leading 17th goal of the season in the win. “We just worked hard through the Super Eight. We were kind of the underdog coming in, so we just outworked the other team, got pucks deep and went to work.”
Just to qualify for the tournament, the tenth-seeded Lancers endured a play-in game with Archbishop Williams, before leading a perfect road to Causeway Street, amassing straight victories over Springfield Cathedral and a semifinal win over Catholic Conference rival Catholic Memorial on Wednesday at Tsongas Center.
“I’m very excited for the kids,” said John McLean, Lancer head coach and former Merrimack College assistant. “We have an up-and-down year and the kids pulled through. We did not have a lot of support out there. We knew we had the talent, but we just had to get them on the right page.”
A tough season, especially to start, it was for MC as it begun just 5-7-2, before rattling off 11 in a row to close the season in grand fashion.
“There were a lot of doubters and a lot of pressure on these kids, so they feel really good about themselves right now.”
From the outset, Austin Prep senior captain Nolan Vesey did all that he could to make the Cougar crowd happy as he streaked through the wing – just 14 seconds into the proceedings – and fired a wrister by Malden Catholic senior stopper Connor Maloney.
From then on, it was all Lancers.
“First shot goals happen,” McLean said. “BC High, last year, scored on their first shot, so we didn’t even think about it. It happens and you can’t worry about it.”
MC changed the tides and closed the opening stanza with two goals, heading into the intermission with a 2-1 edge. Maloney, a Woburn native, held steady and gave the offense time to play catch up.
At 5:25, UMass Lowell recruit and Lancer junior Tyler Sifferlen took a pass from future UMass Minuteman Mike Iovanna in the right-hand circle and fed the a wrist shot through Prep sophomore Elijah Harris for his 14th goal of the season.
With just two minutes to go before the first break, sophomore right winger Austin Goldstein snapped a pretty wrist shot one-on-one with the defense to cap off a rush with junior assistant captain and defender Nick Rolli.
Neither side found the back of the net in the second period, but Harris and Maloney each saw their fair share of quality chances.
Harris was the arguable star of the period as he kept the Cougars within one, thanks to a pair of huge saves on Nazarian, who fired a straight on shot, before spinning and grabbing a rebound off the crease about midway through.
Junior Patrick Wrenn beat Harris with 5:15 left, but the sophomore reached back and pulled the puck from the goal line to keep the puck from being scored.
Nazarian, a sure Division I prospect in just his second season on Crystal Street, gave MC some breathing room at 2:24 of the final period as he, again, streaked through the wing and squeaked a five-hole shot between the wickets of Harris for a 3-1 lead.
“[They come] all the time,” McLean said of the amount of chances his sophomore centerman from Boxford creates. “He’s done it since he was a mite. Nothing surprises me, he’s a very talented hockey player…and always shows up in the big games.”
“I don’t want to lose him…not at all.”
The Cougars were forced to kill a penalty in the final two minutes of regulation and Vesey broke in alone shorthanded, only to be denied by the stone cold pads of Maloney.
Vesey, a North Reading native and younger brother of Harvard freshman Jim, found the back of the net on a backhanded rebound with 26.5 seconds left, making it a 3-2 game, but that was as close as Maloney would allow in the Lancers’ win.
For the game, the Lancers held a 36-14 shots on goal advantage and became the first team to win their play-in game to become state champions.
Division I: St. Mary’s 2, Arlington Catholic 1
Division II: Duxbury 1, Falmouth 0
Division II: Wilmington 4, Franklin 0
Division III: Westfield 4, Swampscott 1
Division I: Burlington 4, Marshfield 2