Heading into the third period Saturday night, the Bishop Hendricken hockey team was in a precarious spot.
Nursing a one-goal lead and still with over three minutes left to kill on a Cranston West power play, the Hawks were uncharacteristically on their heels.
It didn't take long for them to return to form.
Hendricken killed off the penalty and then scored three times in the final period, finishing with a 5-2 victory over the Falcons. Sophomore All-Stater Matt Creamer netted a hat trick for the Hawks, including two in that third period, to help them hang on and avoid what could have been a costly defeat.
"I didn't really like the way we played, but give West a lot of credit," Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer said. "They played hard, they were emotional. I thought we weren't very intelligent tonight. We didn't play with a lot of smarts. We took some lousy penalties. But we'll take it and move on."
Hendricken is in a battle for the top spot in Division I-Cimini with Mount St. Charles, making every win - especially this late in the season - crucial toward winning the division in the regular season. The Hawks are 12-2-1, giving them 18.6 power points, while Mount is just behind with 17.6 power points and a 12-4 record.
West is 1-11-3 in Division I-Eccleston, but has made a habit of being competitive with just about everybody. Still, with only a few games left in the season, a loss to the Falcons would have loosened the Hawks' grip on first place.
Instead, they tightened it. Beating West was the team's second win in two games, as it beat Notre Dame Prep 5-3 on Friday, putting Hendricken squarely in the driver's seat.
"We always have these little goals, and the first goal is to win our division," Creamer said. "It is a goal of ours, and we can worry about that and once we do that we'll worry about advancing and hopefully the state championship."
After a scoreless first period in which West out-shot the Hawks 10-7, Hendricken jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the second despite not playing its best.
Just over three minutes into the period, Reilly Miller stole the puck at West's blue line and raced in on a two-man breakaway with Jamie Armstrong. Miller held the puck until the last second, then slid it across to Armstrong on the left, who one-timed it past West goalie Anthony Lancelotti for the goal.
Four minutes later, immediately following a Falcons' penalty, Ed Markowski won a faceoff right to Matt Creamer, and Creamer's slap shot from the point beat Lancelotti to make it 2-0.
But West got right back in it as the period was winding down. Hendricken took a penalty with 1:53 to play, and the Falcons took advantage. Alex Nyzio received a pass from Ryan Perry and shot top shelf on Hawks' goalie Craig Colson - who had come in to relieve Mitch Proulx - to cut Hendricken's lead in half.
"We liked our team effort," West head coach Mike Boyajian said. "We didn't quit."
Then it got worse for the Hawks. With 38 seconds left to play in the second, Hendricken was called for a double minor, putting West on the power play for four minutes with a chance to net the equalizer.
After surviving those 38 seconds, Hendricken came back out for the third with one goal in mind.
"We had to kill that," Jim Creamer said. "We knew it."
The Hawks did just that, keeping West from getting any real quality looks on Colson the entire way. It was deflating for West not to score, while escaping without allowing a goal put the momentum squarely back in Hendricken's favor.
And with 11:35 left - just two seconds after the power play ended - Matt Creamer struck again. Markowski cleared the puck out of Hendricken's zone, and Creamer came from the other side of the ice to chase it down. With a defender on his back near the West goal, Creamer escaped from him, stopped, spun and buried a shot to re-up Hendricken's lead to two goals at 3-1.
"Ed Markowski got the puck out of the zone," Matt Creamer said. "That was big. Without that, the goal wouldn't have happened. I got it down and I kind of rode off the defender, cut back and I just took a hard shot and luckily it went in."
The Hawks added another goal almost six minutes later, as Jonathan Finelli put a shot on net and the rebound bounced out to Josh Olson, who one-timed it into the goal.
Still, the game wasn't quite over. West's Anthony Simeone got free 28 seconds later and beat Colson on a breakaway to make the score 4-2. Twenty-one seconds later, the Falcons went on a power play again, and nearly made it a one-goal game.
Rudy Branca powered a slap shot on net from the point, but Colson made a kick save to keep the Hawks out in front by two.
"Any time you can come back, make it 4-2, and we nearly made it 4-3 immediately after that, there's no quit in there," Boyajian said.
Hendricken killed the penalty though, and then put the finishing touches on the win with 1:34 to play. Andrew Fera and Creamer took off on an odd-man rush and Fera dropped the puck behind him for Creamer on the right. A wrist shot found its way into the net to make the score 5-2.
"Matt's a tough player to contain," Boyajian said. "There's no question. He's at that next level."
West actually out-shot Hendricken 30-24 over the course of the game.
"I don't think we played our greatest, but we did what we had to do," Creamer said. "We did enough to get the win."
Hendricken has three regular season games left and then will turn its attention to the playoffs. The Hawks were scheduled to take on Smithfield on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time.
This weekend, Hendricken will host West again on Friday night at Thayer Arena at 7 p.m., then finish things off against La Salle on Saturday at 9 p.m. at Benny Magiera.
The playoffs start on March 8 with the state semifinals, where Hendricken will open up against either La Salle or Coventry.
"I like the way we're playing," Creamer said. "We're working hard, practicing hard. We're doing all the little things to get us going. When playoff time comes, I think we'll be fine."