It’s only January, but the jubilant celebration that followed D1 #9 Austin Prep’s 3-1 win over #5 Pope Francis at the Breakaway Ice Center on Thursday night suggested that it meant more than just your run of the mill regular season victory.
With a packed rink and huge student section on hand, AP got 21 saves from Anthony Beaulieu and goals from Nick Saunders, Evan Regan and Drew Thibodeau. Pope Francis got 23 saves from Ryan Rhodes in the loss.
Following the win, AP players whooped it up leaving the ice and met with high fives and hugs from classmates who made it feel like a playoff game for two straight hours on Thursday.
“All week we practiced and we were hoping we were going to play the way we practiced and it all came to fruition tonight. I’m very proud of the boys,” said Austin Prep head coach Bill Pappas. “It’s been a long road this year coming out of Covid. We’ve got some great fans that are backing up this team every game which is a great thing to see. I think it gives us a lot of extra momentum to be quite honest and it’s great to see.
“That fan base has come a long way and they’re getting stronger every game. We love it. We can’t even (tell you) how much we appreciate them being here. It’s all positive, nothing negative and I love it. Love it.”
After a fairly even first period that ended 0-0, everyone in attendance got their money’s worth in the second.
Less than five minutes into the frame, Saunders came down the left wing and let a sizzler go that went short-side blocker to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead, with assists going to John Toohey and Robert McDonald.
Just over a minute later with Austin Prep on the power play after a high stick, Regan let a shot go from the point that somehow dribbled through Rhodes and just crossed the line to make it 2-0. Thomas Fabbo and Thibodeau were credited with assists.
Shortly thereafter, the Cardinals cut it to 2-1 when Josh Iby put home a loose rebound out in front with assists going to line mates Jack Moltenbrey and Ryan O’Leary.
Physicality picked up throughout the period. Austin’s Jacob Duval got called for charging, but the Cougars killed off the penalty. In total, there were five penalties called in the second and nine for the game.
“We came out with a really hot start in the second, got pucks to the net,” said Regan. “They got their goal, but we stayed with it, got pucks deep and just played our defensive game.”
“We’ve got a lot of depth here, they’re young, but they’re working,” Pappas said when asked how he thought his team handled the second. “We’re working our strengths which is our speed and or capabilities to backcheck. I think that showed with all the penalties in the second period.”
The Cardinals began the third period with 43 seconds of power play time after a late roughing call in the second, but couldn’t capitalize. AP was called for hooking with 5:52 remaining, but thwarted that power play opportunity as well.
Eventually, with Rhodes pulled for a sixth attacker, Thibodeau added an empty netter with 52 seconds left to seal it for the Cougars.
“Good win as a team, last year at this time we didn’t play too well against them,” said Beaulieu. “Being able to build as a team, being a young team coming out, good atmosphere from the fans. We brought it, prepared well, played as a team and did everything we needed to do to get the win.”
As for the atmosphere, its importance can’t be overstated – that goes for any team who usually has a raucous fan base – and may end up helping the Cougars go on a deep run in the postseason.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” added Beaulieu. “Last year having the Covid year we couldn’t even have our parents go and watch, so it was just going to play hockey in a dead rink. Now, having all of our best friends here gave us confidence, energy and just the passion to win.”
The two teams are scheduled for a rematch on Sunday at Cyr Arena in Springfield. Game time is 2pm. Should be another great one.