By Phil Stacey
---- — LOWELL -- You can plan for, anticipate or ready yourself almost anything in a particular hockey game.
What you can never see coming are the fluke plays, the ones that happen at the worst of times and deliver devastating results. That’s how the St. John’s Prep hockey season ended last night. An Austin Prep power play shot from the left circle popped up in the crease, was knocked down by a St. John’s defenseman ... and bounced backwards and over the Eagles’ goal line, proving to be the game-winning goal. That strike, coming with just 2:11 to play in regulation, gave the underdogs from Austin Prep a stunning 2-1 victory over the top-seeded Eagles in the Super 8 semifinals at the Tsongas Center.
“It doesn’t matter how they got it. (Goals) all count the same,” St. John’s Prep coach Kristian Hanson said after his team saw its season end at 19-4-1.
“I thought we played a pretty good game. But we’ve had difficult all year capitalizing ... and tonight it came back to bite us.”
Desperate to tie the score as the clock wound down, the Prep swarmed the Austin Prep zone and got two excellent chances. But Cougars’ sophomore netminder Elijah Harris was immense and was not to be denied, finishing with 28 saves.
“We played our game ... but we didn’t finish, that’s for sure,” said Prep senior captain Brian Pinho, a North Andover resident who had five shots in the first period alone and assisted on the Eagles’ lone goal, a Tyler Bird rebound tally with 8:14 left in the third period to tie the contest. “We controlled the play but just couldn’t score.”
It was the final game of their careers for 16 Prep seniors, who went to three straight Super 8 semifinals (the first time in school history that’s ever been done) and reached the 2011 championship game.
Austin Prep (16-1-6) will meet two-time defending Super 8 champ Malden Catholic in Sunday’s title tilt at the TD Garden in Boston (6 p.m.). Malden Catholic beat Catholic Memorial, 5-3 in yesterday’s other semifinal.