By Cary Shuman
The heart and character of the 2015-16 St. Mary’s High School boys hockey team can never be questioned.
Twice facing two-goal deficits in the Division 1 state championship game and when a lesser group could have folded in the spotlight, coach Mark Lee’s Spartans staged a thrilling comeback to tie the game and bring on overtime.
Sports fans will tell you that nothing matches the intensity and excitement of sudden-death overtime, be it Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals or the one-game format of the MIAA State Championships.
But it was Franklin sophomore Luke Downie who scored in the second extra session to deny St. Mary’s a state championship, 4-3, in a Garden classic Sunday night.
St. Mary’s (21-6) had reached the Garden with a succession of close victories over Triton (3-1), Chelmsford (2-1), Arlington (3-1), and Arlington Catholic (3-1), all backboned by goaltender Andrew LoRusso, who had limited opponents to one goal a game. LoRusso was a big reason why St. Mary’s arrived on Causeway Street as the Division 1 North sectional champion.
Franklin (17-3-5) stormed to a 2-0 lead against St. Mary’s in the first 10 minutes of the game and held that advantage until the end of the period.
Eric Pedro brought the St. Mary’s rooting section to its feet with a beautiful goal just 11 seconds in to the second period. Catholic Central League MVP Dante Maribito assisted on the tally.
Franklin responded with its third goal but LoRusso was superb the rest of the way, holding the sky-blue clad opponents scoreless for the final 27 minutes of regulation.
Conor Foley launched the Spartans’ comeback with a power play goal, perfectly executing a sweep-around past Franklin goalie, Nick Jasinski, to close the margin to 3-2. Maribito gave St. Mary’s another bolt of momentum with the game-tying goal, assisted by Nicholas Scali and Marc Zampanti.
Both teams battled furiously end-to-end, but the St. Mary’s and Franklin goaltenders were superb in the clutch. After a scoreless first OT that had the crowd on the edge of it seat, Franklin’s Downie netted the winning goal on a wrist shot.
Mark Lee, who was seeking his first state title amidst a superlative 400-plus win coaching career, knew that he had been a part of a schoolboy hockey classic, easily one of most exciting games in St. Mary’s proud history.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of this team all year long and today was exactly how these guys have played all year long – they grinded and they came back from two goals down late and they never stopped,” said Lee.
“The game of hockey is a bounce here and a bounce there and in the end, we didn’t get much luck from the hockey gods, but give Franklin credit, they’re a well-coached team and those boys worked hard.”
Lee said the two goalies made several splendid saves in regulation and in the overtimes.
“I told Andrew we wouldn’t be here without him. He was big in every game for us this season. Their goalie made some incredible stops early on and they held the lead and we found our way back.”
St. Mary’s standout defenseman Brady McLaughlin concluded his career with another stellar effort, logging a lot of ice time.
“It was a tough game. The pucks weren’t bouncing our way – we tried our best and it just didn’t go the way we wanted,” said McLaughlin, a 6-foot-3-inch senior in his second year in the St. Mary’s program.
McLaughlin said it was an honor to be a part of the St. Mary’s program and a team that reached the state final.
“These have been the best two years of my life. It’s been a great two-year experience. It’s the best decision I ever made coming in to this program. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Coach Lee is a great guy and a class act and it’s lousy that we couldn’t get the win for him but hopefully he’ll be back next year.”