With a chance to win the state championship on Saturday night, the Hendricken hockey team played fast and aggressive right from the opening faceoff.
But no matter how much pressure the Hawks put on, Mount St. Charles was always up to the task.
After winning game one on Friday night in the best-of-three championship series at Providence College’s Schneider Arena, Hendricken out-shot Mount 34-24 on Saturday. Yet, the four-time defending state champion Mounties never trailed, and they withstood a late Hawks’ flurry to hang on and win game two 3-2, forcing a winner-take-all game three on Monday night.
The results of game three were unavailable at press time.
Saturday was the second consecutive one-goal game the teams played, as Hendricken won 4-3 in overtime in Friday’s game. There wasn’t much discernable difference in the level of play between the two nights – besides a rise in penalties for both teams on Saturday – and either team could easily have swept the series.
Fittingly, though, a third game was needed to crown the state champion.
“I’m not surprised,” Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer said. “We’ll re-group and get back at it on Monday. It’ll be an exciting night for everybody.”
The top-seeded Hawks and second-seeded Mounties split four regular season meetings this year, each scored 15 total goals during those games and met in the finals last year.
And with the teams so evenly matched and Schneider at near-capacity both nights, the stage was set for a heavyweight fight.
On Friday, Hendricken got two goals from Robbie Buehrer, battled back from a late 3-2 deficit to tie the game at three on a David Mitchell goal with less than two minutes remaining, then won the game on a rebound goal from Paul Filippone with just over a minute to play in overtime.
In net, Billy Palmer made crucial stops en route to a 31-save performance.
The next night, though, in the same exact situation, Mount found a way to hold on.
“We took care of business tonight,” Mount coach Dave Belisle said on Saturday. “We played until the final whistle. It was just as exciting as it was last night, but we were on the other end. It’s a good feeling to finish off something that I think we took the initiative and started.”
The Mounties took a 3-1 lead early in the third period when Steven Donahue II ripped a shot past Palmer with 13:48 to play.
Just over three minutes later, on a power play, Filippone brought the Hawks back within one on a highlight-reel goal from the right circle when he wristed a shot into the top-right corner of the net, past Mount goalie Brian Larence, while being taken down from behind by a Mount defender simultaneously.
And from there, Hendricken did all it could to tie the game. But the only thing it couldn’t seem to do was get a puck past Larence.
“Give their goaltender credit,” Creamer said. “He did a nice job. He didn’t give up a lot of rebounds tonight. We had a lot of first chances, but not a lot of second and third chances.”
At the 9:58 mark, Mitchell was denied on a breakaway opportunity, and Matt Creamer was stopped two minutes later on a slap shot from the left circle.
As time began to slip away, the Hawks ratcheted up the pressure.
Filippone got loose on a breakaway, but was denied by Larence, who came out of the crease and slapped the puck away from Filippone while also taking him down.
That resulted in a penalty with 2:21 left, and Hendricken called a timeout.
Armed with a power play, the Hawks won the ensuing faceoff and got a shot on goal from Justin Finan, but Larence again wouldn’t budge. In the final minute, Hendricken pulled Palmer from the goal and got another shot from Creamer and a rebound opportunity for Filippone, but neither shot crossed the line.
“He’s been big for us this year,” Belisle said of Larence. “He might be small in stature, but he’s got a big heart. And he’s strong for such a small goaltender. They’re coming at him 100 miles per hour, and with all that traffic he stands his ground. He did a great job.”
Larence also came up big early on, as he kept Hendricken out of the goal despite 10 first period shots. That paved the way for Mount to jump in front.
After the Hawks killed off a 5-on-3 situation, the Mounties were still on a power play with 7:45 remaining when Brian Belisle got them on the board.
The junior received the puck near the blue line and, without a Hendricken defender advancing to him, moved towards the goal. He wristed a perfect shot past Palmer for a 1-0 advantage.
For the game, Hendricken did kill off six of seven penalties, but it couldn’t prevent the early deficit.
“With the emotion of the night, we took some uncharacteristically bad penalties,” Jim Creamer said. “But they made us work. I thought we did a good job killing, maybe with the exception of that first goal.”
The Hawks were able to tie the game midway through the second period when Don Nolte took the puck from the red line into Mount’s zone and beat Larence on the left side. Buehrer was credited with an assist.
Only 24 seconds later, however, Mount jumped back in front.
Ryan Berard stationed himself in front of Palmer, and Brian Campbell found him with a pass from behind the goal that Berard one-timed into the right side.
“I think we played every shift as hard and as desperate as possible,” Belisle said.
It paid off. Donahue’s goal gave the Mounties a two-goal lead, and they hung on to force Monday’s showdown.
The three-game series marked the first-time since 2006-07 that there hasn’t been a sweep in the championship series. That season, Hendricken defeated Mount for 1-0 in the final game to capture the title.