LOWELL — Taking the ice as the overwhelming underdog — a No. 8 seed facing off against a No. 1-ranked squad with just two losses for the season — Central Catholic skated in with one goal in mind.
Set the tone.
“We just needed that first goal,” said Raiders winger Lloyd Hayes. “We felt confident and knew we could score. But, going in as the last seed, we just needed to score that first goal to show that we were there to play.”
Just 5:08 into the game, Hayes threw that first knockdown blow, gathering in his own rebound and banking the puck off a defender’s skate for the goal that gave No. 8 Central that fast lead.
The Raiders would surrendered that advantage just once, and never lose grip on momentum on the way to dominating top-seeded St. John’s Prep for a 4-1 victory in the first of their best-of-3 Super 8 first round series.
Central Catholic (15-5-3) will look to sweep the series and earn a berth in the Super 8 semifinals for the second straight season when the two teams face off on Thursday at Stoneham Arena (7:45 p.m.) An Eagles win would force a decisive Game 3.
“We knew we weren’t supposed to win this game,” said defenseman Alex Lester. “We heard everyone picking the Prep in two games. But we had beaten them before, so we knew we could play with them, and we showed them what we could do.”
Central also defeated the Prep (17-3-1) in the regular season (2-1). The only other team to best the Eagles was fellow Super 8 qualifier BC High.
“The whole hockey world was underestimating us,” said senior captain Nick Gorski. “We had to go out and prove ourselves to all the doubters, and make everyone else believe we could do this. So scoring that first goal was huge.”
In stepped Lloyd, who set the Raiders in motion with his 11th goal of the season.
“Lester threw it on my stick,” he said. “I took a shot that was stopped, got my own rebound and I think it went off their defender’s skate and went into the goal. Sometimes you have to get a little lucky.”
For the dark horse Raiders, that goal was exactly what they had hoped for.
“Lloyd’s goal set the tempo nice and early,” said Lester. “It really set us into the flow of the game and we carried it from there. Without (top scorer Mike) Kelleher (suspended) we needed someone to step up.”
St. John’s Prep was able to fight back to tie the game, 1-1, 4:30 later on a goal by James Currier.
But Central Catholic struck back just two minutes into the second, when Kevin Regan scored to make it 2-1.
“I got the puck to Tommy (Christian Thompson) and he chipped it into the zone,” said Regan. “(Billy) Stahley got it back to me and I just put it in. They did all the work, and I was there to finish it off.”
The Eagles managed a golden chance to regain momentum when Providence College recruit Brian Pinho of North Andover broke in all alone, only to be stoned by fellow North Andoverite Colin Soucy.
“He picked it off, came down and went in front,” said Soucy. “I had an idea when he was going to shoot, and I got the puck with my pad. That’s when I really started to feel confident.”
The save left the fans in the stands buzzing.
“Pinho might be the best player in the state,” said Central coach Mike Jankowski. “So making that save was huge. That might have been the turning point in the game.”
The Raiders extended the lead later in the period, when Gorski scored to make it 3-1. Lester then closed out the scoring, and any fantasy of a Prep comeback, with a goal 1:49 into the third period.
“We knew we couldn’t just sit back at 2-1,” said Regan. “We came out in the third period wanting to put them away.”
Soucy faced a few tests in the third, but did not flinch, finishing the day with 24 saves.
“Soucy is always big for us,” said Gorski. “He is always bailing us out. I know he bailed me out a few times. He made some huge saves that kept us ahead the whole game.”
Now the Raiders face a three-day break before looking to eliminate the Eagles and move on.
“I don’t know how I’m going to concentrate it school this week,” said Lester with a laugh. “I’m already anxious about this game. It’s going to be a tough wait, but it’s going to be great when it gets here.”
agateHed:Central Catholic 4, St. John’s Prep 1
agateText:Central leads best-of-3 Super 8 series 1-0
Central Catholic (15-5-3):@zzAgate:agateText: 1 2 1 — 4
agateText:St. John’s Prep (17-3-1):@zzAgate:agateText: 1 0 0 — 1
agateText:Goals:@zzAgate:agateText: CC — Lloyd Hayes, Kevin Regan, Nick Gorski, Alex Lester; SJP —James Currier
agateText:Assists:@zzAgate:agateText: CC — Lester, Corey Webber, Christian Thompson, Billy Stahley, Regan, Hayes; SJP —Brian Pinho, Tyler Bird
agateText:Saves:@zzAgate:agateText: CC — Colin Soucy 24; SJP — Billy Price 22
agateText:Next game@zzAgate:agateText:: Central Catholic vs. St. John’s Prep, Thursday, 7 p.m. at Stoneham Arena.