Back very early in the pre-season, Lowell Catholic coach Tom Curran knew he had something special as his club prepared for its first season at the Division 2 level.
“I told the kids after the first week that this was the most talented team Lowell Catholic has ever had,” Curran said. “I know if it’s the best team, but the most talented. I told them if they listened and worked hard, they could go as far as they could. I knew we were as good as anyone in Division 2 North.”
Well, the Crusaders must have listened well to what the coaching staff was saying, as they are now 2017 MIAA Division 2 state champions after a thrilling 5-4 win over Scituate Sunday at TD Garden.
Sophomore Alex Graves scored on a 2-on-1 breakout with 1:06 to play in regulation to snap a 4-4 tie and give the Crusaders (20-2-2) the title.
“I just went toward the net,” said Graves, a sophomore. “I was a little nervous, but Nate (Donaldson) made a great pass. I saw the top right hand corner and just put it there.”
On the goal, defenseman Andrius Kulbis-Marino made a great pass to spring Graves and Donaldson on the 2-on-1. Donaldson made a perfect pass across to Graves, who swooped in and buried the puck into the top near corner.
The game featured great up-and-down action After each team scored in an even first period, Lowell Catholic dominated the second period and scored twice to take a 3-1 lead. Scituate (22-3-1) rallied in the third period to tie the game at 3-3 and then again at 4-4 before Graves notched the game-winner.
Donaldson scored at 5:03 of the second period to put the Crusaders on top. On a faceoff to the left of Scituate goalie Danny Santiano, Mikas Kulbis-Marino won the draw clean to Donaldson, who buried a wrist shot far side.
The Crusaders jumped ahead 3-1 on almost a carbon copy goal. This time, it was Connor Doherty who won the draw to Donaldson. His shot this time never reached Santiano. Instead it went to Mitchell Andrea on the doorstep and he quickly fired it home.
Lowell Catholic outshot Scituate 14-8 in the period and were feeling pretty good about themselves.
But Scituate showed why they were the South’s top seed. At 4:03 of the third, Liam Walsh batted home a waist-high feed from Shane Comeau.
Then, less than two minutes later, while on a power play, Cam Francis followed his own shot coming down the right side and flicked the rebound of Shane D’Urso’s shoulder to tie it at 3-3.
Scituate’s momentum was quickly quelled, though, when Doherty broke out on a 2-on-1, came down the left wing and snapped home a wrister to the top far corner, putting Lowell Catholic on top 4-3. Mitchell Andrea had an assist on the goal.
Again, the Sailors responded. Just 59 seconds later, Liam Norton stole the puck at his defensive blue line and sent Ben Smith in alone. Smith roofed it over D’Urso’s should to make it 4-4.
Lowell Catholic then called a timeout.
“We told the kids that we were playing the same team with the same strengths and weaknesses,” Curran said. “We said to keep doing what we were doing, and to cut down the turnovers in our end. We would be good to go.”
That set up Graves heroics to clinch the state title for the Crusaders.
“What an unbelievable goal,” Curran said. “A great pass from Donaldson. It was sweet.”
Scituate grabbed a 1-0 lead just 3:34 into the contest on a goal by Comeau. The Crusaders answered midway through the period on a goal from Graves, assisted by Andrius Kulbis-Marino and Michael Andrea.