There weren’t a lot of fireworks on display in Saturday night’s game between the Hendricken and Mount St. Charles hockey teams at Thayer Arena.
But there didn’t have to be – the match-up alone, and what was at stake, provided all the excitement needed. In front of a packed house, the Hawks got a second-period goal from sophomore Reilly Miller and a 17-save shutout from goaltender Matt Kenneally on their way to a 1-0 win over the Mounties in the regular season finale for both teams.
The victory gave Hendricken the Division I-Cimini title and the top seed in the state playoffs for the third straight season, a first for the Hawks in longtime head coach Jim Creamer’s tenure. A loss would have given Mount the title and the No. 1 seed.
Hendricken finished 14-2-2 and Mount ended up at 14-4. Mount finished second in the final standings.
“We knew what was at stake and that was a goal at the start of the year,” Creamer said. “To get to the last game and have an opportunity to control that for ourselves was great to see.”
The Hawks will now take on No. 4 Smithfield, which was the top team in D-I-Eccleston and therefore moves into the state playoffs, in the state semifinals. Smithfield went 10-8 during the season and finished with 12.8 power points.
The best-of-three series will start Friday with game one at Thayer Arena at 7 p.m. and continue with a game two on Saturday at the Smithfield Rink at 8 p.m. A third game will be held Monday at Thayer, if necessary. Mount will play No. 3 La Salle in the other semifinal, with the two series winners playing for the state championship next weekend.
“We’re having a really good group effort,” said Miller, whose backhand goal at the tail end of the second period was the difference on Saturday. “We’re having four lines go really hard and six D go really hard.”
Hendricken won all three regular season meetings with the Mounties this year, the first time it’s pulled off that sweep since the 2006-07 season, when the Hawks went unbeaten on their way to a second straight state title.
Saturday’s may have been the toughest. The teams traded possession regularly without mounting many legitimate scoring chances in the first period. Mount’s Thomas Crudele blistered a slap shot on net just six minutes into the game, but it was straight into the chest of Kenneally. Hendricken’s Bryce Dolan fired a slap shot on Mount goalie Brian Larence two minutes later, but that shot was pushed harmlessly away.
Other than that and a few odd-man rushes that never developed, it was a defensive period.
The Hawks got a golden opportunity early on in the second when Liam Watkinson stole the puck in Mount’s zone and got a wide open look in front of Larence. Watkinson’s shot, though, went right at the goaltender, who covered it up.
As the game wore on, Creamer was nervous, feeling that Mount was dictating play.
“The first two periods Mount did an unbelievable job,” Creamer said. “I thought they out-worked us and we had to survive some periods. I didn’t love the way we played.”
At the seven-minute mark, Crudele got a strong backhand shot off to Kenneally’s right, but the goaltender lunged for the save. Less than a minute later, Mount’s Kevin Valentine had a good look from the short-side on the left, but Kenneally got big by the post and again made the save.
“We got great goaltending,” Creamer said. “Matt did a great job in net.”
Finally, with 1:06 left in the period, Hendricken broke the deadlock. Pat Creamer flipped the puck into the neutral zone and Miller picked it up and led a three-on-one odd-man rush into Mount’s zone. Holding the puck on the left side, Miller elected to fire a shot rather than pass it across and Larence made a sprawling pad save by the left post. The puck bounced right back to Miller, who saw nothing but daylight.
“I had the whole net,” he said. “I just went to my backhand and put it in.”
It was a workman-like goal, one that eventually catapulted the Hawks to the top seed.
“We had an outstanding game from Reilly Miller,” Creamer said. “He was awesome today.”
From there it was time to protect, and Hendricken turned up the intensity in the third period. Though the shots were even at five apiece, the Hawks dictated play and never let Mount get a good look at Kenneally.
With 4:41 to play, Hendricken’s Chris Shalvey was whistled for the only penalty in the game, giving Mount a valuable power play and a chance to tie the score. But the Hawks killed the penalty easily, not allowing a single shot on Kenneally during the two-minute span.
“I thought we had a really good third period for us, sort of the way we like to play,” Creamer said. “It was defensively sound and we didn’t give up any chances. It was good.”
With 56 seconds left, Mount called a timeout but couldn’t do a thing out of the break, and Hendricken was free to celebrate another regular season title.
Now it’s on to the playoffs, where the Hawks will try to get back to the state championship series after being upset last year as the top seed.
Hendricken went 1-1 this season against Smithfield.