As far as defensive performances in a loss go you’d be hard pressed to find a better effort than that of the Prout boys hockey team’s Saturday.
The Crusaders may have fallen short – dropping a 3-2 overtime decision in game two – of winning the Division II Championship this winter but it wasn’t a result of lack of effort.
Despite facing Lincoln – a team whose only blemish on its record was a Feb. 1 tie to Cumberland – Prout battled its way to the finish and a big reason why the Crusaders stayed competitive was their defense.
“We’re an older, more confident group of defensemen,” senior Matt Filardo said. “We have the strength to pretty much control the puck in front and despite a few hard grinders, Lincoln had this series.
“We battled in the corners and I thought we didn’t give up any good chances. They were a big, physical team in front and pretty even matched with us.”
Through the first two periods of Saturday’s game the Lions’ were held off the scoreboard and their only real great opportunity came on a breakaway for Ryan Krohto with 4:33 remaining in the second period.
Lincoln struggled to get any great scoring opportunities mainly because the Crusaders’ back check was that good.
“The stakes are higher and guys are going to back check,” Prout coach John Gaffney said. “We’ve been emphasizing that all year.
“A couple of them – I think it was James Neri – back checked a guy that was pretty good and maybe took the puck off him.
“It’s not a stat, you see it in the stands and there were several other ones when we came back, filled the lane and weren’t allowing them to make a play. Some of the back checking stuff you don’t get to see it [in the stats] but it’s there.”
Each time the Lions crossed Prout’s blue line they were met by a Crusaders defender who – more often than not – did their job in a one-on-one situation.
“When they see an odd-man rush like that they’ll be coming in with back checkers themselves to outnumber us but it’s just important to get back and not give up any more of those rebounds,” Filardo said. “We were just trying to take them as early as we could without giving up too much ice.”
The Lions may have scored all three of their goals in the game’s final 20 minutes but once again Prout’s defense did its job in the situation.
Five minutes into the third period Krohto tied the game at one but the score came on the heels of a defensive stand from the Crusaders.
Prout had just forced a turnover in its own zone and was looking to mount a rush in transition.
The attack failed before it really got started though as senior Michael Reilly – one of Prout’s best players – had an uncharacteristic turnover when he lost his edge in front of the Crusaders’ net.
The mishap gave Krohto a wide open opportunity on freshman Austin Gemma and the Prout goalkeeper never stood a chance.
Lincoln’s next goal came on the heels of a highly questionable slashing penalty on senior Justin Mateus with 7:37 remaining in the game.
The Lions scored just 31 seconds into the penalty after Gemma made the initial save on a Chris Leclerc shot and the puck ricocheted to Jerzy Polak on the weak side.
Polak was wide open on the opposite side of the net for the rebound, which could be considered a rotational miscue but then again they call it a man advantage for a reason.
Fortunately for the Crusaders Mateus had the answer to force overtime and in the extra four-on-four session Prout’s defense continued to play strong.
On Lincoln’s game-winning goal the ‘D’ did its job again, forcing Griffin Hevey into a backhand from the blue line.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders it was shot that found its way into the back of the net to win the game.