By David Willis
BILLERICA — The good news for Central Catholic hockey is that its season isn't over. The bad news, however, is that its 2010 Super 8 run is.
"We wanted so badly to be in the Super 8," said Raiders head coach Mike Jankowski. "But, unfortunately, we arrived and couldn't play our best hockey when it mattered. We played well at times but, on the biggest stage, we didn't have one of our better games."
Despite grabbing an early lead, No. 9 Central Catholic quickly fell behind and struggled with penalties and missed opportunities on the way to falling to No. 8 Winchester 5-3 in the play-in round of the Super 8 tournament last night at the Chelmsford Forum.
The Raiders (13-4-3) now move to the Division 1 North tournament as the No. 2 seed, and open play tomorrow against No. 15 Medford (7-12-1) in Stoneham at 5:30 p.m. The loser of the other play-in game, Burlington, is the top seed and earned a first-round bye.
"A loss like this is so disappointing," said senior tri-captain Shawn Bradley. "There is nothing bigger than the Super 8. It was a good game, but we couldn't put the puck home and they just outplayed us."
Central had qualified for the Super 8 two of the last three years, winning a play-in game in 2007 and earning an automatic berth a year ago.
The Raiders have also struggled of late. They are winless in their last three games (0-2-1), although the other loss was to Super 8 top seed Catholic Memorial, and are just 1-3-2 in their last six contests.
"We played well in spurts tonight," said Jankowski. "We had good surges, but couldn't put three good periods together and missed a lot of key plays. You can't do that. But that has been something that's plagued us all season."
The game opened at a frantic pace. Just 1:08 into play, Winchester took the lead on a goal by Colin Edwards. But that advantage would be short-lived.
Only 13 seconds later, Central Catholic tied the game on a blast from Mike Bryant off assists from Steve Balsamo and Shane Leonard. It was Bryant's third goal of the season.
Only 5:15 later, the Raiders took a 2-1 lead when Balsamo found the puck in front of the net off a funny bounce and buried it to give Central the advantage. The unassisted tally was Balsamo's sixth goal of the year.
That, however, would be the highlight of the day for Central Catholic. Winchester tied the game just 1:23 later, and scored with 36 seconds remaining in the first to take the lead for good. The Sachems then added a goal in the second and another in the third for insurance.
Raider freshman Mike Kelleher added a final tally, the second goal of his varsity career, with 14 seconds remaining in the game.
"We couldn't contain their top line," said Jankowski. "We had out first line against their first line and they got the better of the battle. And their goalie out-played our goalie. It's a tough loss to get past, because we came out with some good energy, but couldn't capitalize on chances."
Central did hold the puck in the Winchester zone for long periods of time, but was unable to beat goalie Mike Messuri.
Penalties were an issue for both squads. Each team was whistled for eight penalties. Winchester took full advantage, scoring three power-play goals, and even once shorthanded. The Raiders also scored twice on the man-advantage, their first and last goal, but wasted what could have been a 56-second 5-on-3 power play by immediately being called for a penalty of their own.
"It is fantastic we made it here," said Jankowski. "But it isn't going to be easy to get over this game. Hopefully, though, we'll be able to and can end this season on a positive note and make the best of our second chance."
Winchester 5, Central Catholic 3
Winchester (13-4-2):3âÇ1âÇ1 — 5
Central Catholic (13-4-3):2âÇ0âÇ1 — 3
Goals: CC — Mike Bryant, Steve Balsamo, Mike Kelleher; W — Colin Edwards 2, Joe Cianciarulo, Mike Seward, Nick Ducharme
Assists: CC — Balsamo, Shane Leonard, Ryan Daigle, Jake Donahue; W — Pat McGoff 2, Bobby Leo, Joe Martignetti, Edwards, Sam Novicki, T.J. Hickey
Saves: CC — Kyle Williams 30; W — Mike Messuri 23
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