Panthers Stun Hawks, Capture Super Eight Birth.

Panthers celebrate their 3-2 OT victory.
Panthers celebrate their 3-2 OT victory.

Xavarian Brothers High School entered tonight’s game looking to solidify their spot in the Massachusetts High School Hockey Division 1A State Tournament, for the eighth time. The Hawks finished 4th place in the star-studded Catholic Conference (a conference composed of all Catholic private high schools) with a 3-5 (14-5-1 overall) record. With 3 seniors on the team having Super Eight experience, Trevor McQuade, Andrew Durkin, and captain Jake Farrell, this team was poised for a run further than their first round exit last year. But they had to get through the Franklin High School Panthers first.

Franklin, 16-1-3, entered the tilt with arguably the best team the school has ever put out on to the ice. The Panthers went 10-0 in their Hockomock League games, had 6 non-league game wins and not to mention a key 3-3 tie against the top team in the state, Springfield Cathedral, in the season opener. Their reward; a chance to get into the Super Eight.

A private school that is no stranger to the states top tournament and a public school that had never been there before. Chelmsford Forum the site, a Super Eight birth on the line. The stage was set.

The game began with the two teams feeling each other out, not taking many chances. The Hawks got comfortable first, imposing their physical presence, and netted the first goal. A shot just outside the slot with a slight screen that caught Franklin goalie, Ryan Shea, just a tad out of position. 1-0 X.

The next 25 minutes or so, seemed to be the longest hockey game of all time. Every inch being contested and fought for. The Hawks would lay a big hit, but the Panthers would counter with a scoring chance, while on the other end, Shea wasn’t giving Xaverian anything to shoot at. The game had reached a grid-lock.

After a scoreless 2nd period and first 10 minutes of the 3rd, the Panthers finally cashed in. A low shot from the point, tipped by Derek Shea, found it’s way passed Sophomore goaltender Aidan Murphy. Tie ball game, 1-1.

Celebrating into their fans storming the glass, the Panthers had life. Only to be sucked right back out of them a minute-and-a-half later when Nick Shaw fired a rocket passed Shea top right. 2-1 X.

Everyone who had doubted Franklin, the ones who questioned why they were even the top 10, were the ones at this point in the game saying, “Good effort, at least they got here”.

At that time was where being a public school paid off.

The 21 seniors on that Panthers squad that all grew up together, playing together, and dreaming of this moment together knew it wasn’t over. Their best friends, their parents, their parents best friends, their whole town, there for them, all together.

The Panthers took all that energy and emotion and pumped out the gustiest hockey they’ve ever performed.

The Hawks quickly realized that Franklin was not showing a white flag just yet. The Panthers put the pressure on in the final eight minutes, getting a few chances here and there but just not being able to put the puck away. The Hawks, being out-played at this time, got a gift of a 3-on-1 odd man rush. The puck was sent back door where there was an incredible amount of twine open, but Shea (like he has done all year) came up with the shot lodged in his catching glove. There was life for the Panthers.

The clocked ticked down to the final minute and with the puck being jammed down Xaverian’s throats, head coach Chris Spillane pulled his goalie, Shea, to get the extra attacker. 29 seconds later the puck was thrown in front of the net, through a series of tips, was wacked at 3 or 4 times creating a juicy rebound for defensemen Nick Morris who buried the equalizer. 2-2, overtime.

The momentum had shifted. You look over to the Xaverian side and from the players to the coaches, to the students and parents, were those hundred-yard stares. They had no idea what to think.

The Franklin faithful got up one more time for their Panthers. Captain Ryan Spillane came from behind the net, took a shot on Murphy that was sent right back out to Spillane, where he simply just sent it right on back but this time passed Murphy and into the back of the net. Ball game.

The Franklin Panthers, for the first time in their history, had made the Super Eight tournament.

The Panthers go in as only one of two public schools in the Super Eight this year. They start their first round, best-of-three series against the 2nd seeded, 4-time defending Super Eight champions,  Malden Catholic this Sunday. But do you really think that worries them? This team is on top of the world right now are ready for any challenge that comes their way.

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