Junior Justin Pearson scored a second-period natural hat trick and Bishop Guertin never let Concord get going as the eighth-seeded Cardinals completed an improbable run to the NHIAA Division 1 boys championship with a 4-1 victory Saturday night at The Verizon Arena.
In claiming their sixth State title and first since 2007, the Cardinals took advantage of their superior size, operating efficiently on offense while cutting the ice in half on defense, stemming the Crimson Tide at every turn. Third-seeded Concord, which finished 15-5-1, was seeking its eighth State crown and first since 2010.
“This is so unexpected. It’s great and it’s a great bunch of kids,” said veteran Guertin coach Gary Bishop, at the helm for five of those State crowns.
“We tried to take the neutral zone away from them and we were also able to get creative through the neutral zone on offense. We moved our feet the whole game. We wanted to make their young defense handle the puck and we wanted to make sure their top guys (Alex Marceau and Matt Norris) didn’t get more than four shots,” he said.
Concord started well enough, grabbing a 1-0 just 3:02 into the game when the junior Norris barreled down the right wing and snapped a wrist shot past Guertin goalie Alex Hall. Little did the Tide know that their offense would diminish to a trickle the rest of the way, limited to nine total shots. Converted forward Jason Lutcza, who dropped back to defense in January, and Nick Apostolakes anchored BG’s defensive effort in front of Hall.
“They’re just way stronger than us physically Even in the first period we had the lead but we weren’t getting any pressure,” said Concord coach Duncan Walsh. “I thought we looked slow but part of that was because of Bishop Guertin.”
Guertin seized momentum midway through the first period and didn’t let go. One Concord foray after another was disrupted in the neutral zone and the Tide rarely got within reasonable shooting distance.
Pearson — who finished with two post-season hat tricks and eight goals — began his personal takeover of the proceedings at 3:02 of the second period. Precise checkerboard passing set him up for a slap shot from the left point that broke through Concord goalie Ben Nelson (20 saves) for a tying power play goal.
Then, at 5:33, Pearson drove home a third-chance rebound for a 2-1 lead after Nelson made two rapid-fire saves from close range.
Finally, with 1:01 left in the period, Pearson carried along the left wing on a 3-on-1 break, looked off a defender, then closed to 10 feet before snapping a dart high to Nelson’s stick side.
“Nothing he does surprises me. I thought he deserved some sort of (post-season) recognition. It helps to play when you’re a little angry,” Bishop noted.
Concord had a chance to get back in it as it opened the third period on the power play, but Guertin generated the best bid when Nelson denied Tim Trudel on a clean break-in. When Pearson set up Lutcza for a power play strike through traffic from the high slot to make it 4-1 with 10:44 to play, it was over.
Bishop said the Cardinals’ rugged out-of-state slate that included games against Massachusetts 1A finalist Malden Catholic, Massachusetts D1 finalist Arlington Catholic and Mount St. Charles of Rhode Island was instrumental in this team’s development.
“The experience out of state is huge. We were getting spanked at that point in the season but it pays off. You’ve got to get better,” Bishop asserted.
On this day, the Cardinals clearly were.