One year after finishing last in the Middlesex League’s Liberty Division, Belmont stands alone atop Division I North following its come-from-behind 3-2 win against St. John’s of Shrewsbury Monday night at Tsongas Arena.
It’s the first Sectional title in program history. The No. 4 Marauders (14-5-5) will now meet South champion Walpole (13-8-5) of the Bay State Conference’s Herget Division in Sunday’s State title game at TD Garden.
The game-winner, delivered by the Marauders’ junior standout Ben Fici, was a thing of beauty. Wheeling unchecked and under a full head of steam, Fici collected a loose puck in the neutral zone, swung wide to the left and snapped home a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle with 1:25 to play. Senior goalie Nico Carere (27 saves) closed it down from there.
SJS dominated the first period, piling up a 10-1 edge in shots and taking a 1-0 lead just 52 seconds into the game on a goal by captain Matt Myers.
Belmont flipped the script in the second period, erupting for a 17-7 advantage in shots. Captain Matt Brody tied it at 1-1 at the 6:52 mark with a rebound goal. Otherwise, Pioneers’ goalie Dan Laursen (29 saves) proved all but impenetrable.
St. John’s (12-9-5) – playing in its first sectional final since winning the 2004 State Championship – took a 2-1 lead on Griffin Burns’ goal with 7:50 to play.
Belmont, though, wouldn’t buckle and tied it on Marco Santagati’s shorthanded strike with 2:26 remaining. Brody sent Santagati in alone on a breakaway and Santagati buried a backhander. Fici won it 61 seconds later.
Sunday’s title game pits two programs seeking their first State title under the umbrella of the MIAA, established in 1972. Walpole won pre-MIAA State titles in 1945, 1963 and 1965.