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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The month of January has not been too kind to the Xaverian Brothers High School varsity hockey team, given the countless injuries and heartbreaking defeats the Hawks (5-6-3, 1-4-1) have suffered.
On Saturday, Xaverian entered its second and final regular season contest with arch rival St. John’s Prep on the heels of a four-game losing skid. Dave Spinale’s boys desperately needed to earn at least a point to get back into a rhythm with just seven regular season games remaining, a slate that will almost certainly decide whether or not the Hawks will be skating in the Super Eight or the Division I state tournament come the end of February.
Thanks to a late tying goal by senior forward Robert Bedard, Xaverian was able to literally fight their way to a much-needed point in an extremely physical contest, avenging their previous 3-0 defeat to St. John’s back on January 10 with a 2-2 tie.
The Hawks caught a bit of an early break just 4:30 in while on the penalty kill, as sophomore forward Ryan Pomposelli intercepted a clearing attempt by Prep goaltender Camden Ludwig in the high slot and the fired the puck into the open-net for his first shorthanded goal of the season to begin the scoring. Xaverian held its 1-0 lead throughout the remainder of the first period, and likely would have added to it if it were not for a resurgence in net from Ludwig and a tremendous series of penalty kills by the Prep.
Xaverian’s cycling effort, quarterbacked by the massive frame and powerful set of legs of junior forward and assistant captain Josh Barton, began to take over the game midway through the second period. However, despite some great puck movement from behind the net, which led to some grade-A scoring opportunities, the score remained 1-0 as time began to wind down on the period.
With about two minutes to play, junior forward Matt Talarico took about as vicious of a hit to the head as one possibly can in the sport of hockey - a hit that to the naked eye seemed like it deserved at least a minor penalty, if not a game misconduct. However, following a minor scrum in front of the net, Xaverian was inexplicably not awarded any sort of power play opportunity. Junior forward Johnny Joyce was sent off with Prep’s Brian Carrabes, the player who made the hit, on matching minors after Joyce stuck up for his fallen teammate, Talarico.
During the ensuing four-on-four time that should have been a Hawk power play, the Prep capitalized with a goal by senior captain Ryan Farrow on a two-on-one, tying the game at one at the end of two periods.
Xaverian continued to hammer away and dominated the time on attack throughout the majority of the third period. However, six minutes in, Prep’s Zachary McKenelley cracked home a rebound on the doorstep to give the Eagles (7-3-2, 4-2-1) their first lead of the hockey game at 2-1.
With time winding down and the Hawks still down a goal, Xaverian switched up its strategy of working the puck down low to feeding it back to the point to try and get shots on net with some screens.
The change in scheme worked wonders for the Hawks.
With 3:03 to play, Johnny Joyce fed a pass out to the point to his brother, Matt, who fired a shot on cage that was deflected by Bedard and past the left pad of Ludwig to tie the game at two for the Hawks.
The game’s final three minutes were similar to a game of chess, as neither team took any sort of extreme risk with the fear of giving up an odd-man rush and possibly letting a critical point in the Catholic Conference standings slip away.
The clock hit zeroes, and the game ended in a 2-2 tie.
“That was a huge point for us,” said Johnny Joyce following the game. “We’ve had some tough breaks lately, so it was big for us to bounce back and at least get something out of that. Hopefully, now we can get on a roll.”
On February 3, Xaverian will host Malden Catholic in a game that means a ton towards the fate of their season, but also a game that may mean even more to one of their assistant coaches, Paul Todesca. Just recently, Todesca’s mother passed away after a long fight with cancer. During Saturday’s game against MC, the Hawks will honor Todesca’s late mother by wearing purple “Hockey Fights Cancer” uniforms, and there will be giveaways, a “chuck-a-puck” contest during intermission, and all admissions to the game will be covered by the fundraiser, dedicated to Reo Todesca’s honor. If you don’t have any pre-Super Bowl plans next Saturday, come on out to Canton Ice House and support the Hawks as they try to win the battle against MC and the bigger battle against cancer.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.