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Cathedral falls in final of Hockey Classic

WEST SPRINGFIELD — When supreme talent combines with desperation, the result is a hockey game like the one Thursday night between Cathedral and Malden Catholic.

The fast-paced, physical final of the Cathedral Hockey Classic ended with the two-time defending state champion Lancers defeating the top-ranked Panthers 1-0 at the Olympia.

“That was a really fast game, and they came out ready to go, but we matched their intensity pretty well,” said freshman forward and Amherst resident John Leonard.

Cathedral (16-1-4) could have all but assured itself the top seed in the upcoming Super 8 tournament but finished one goal short of completing an undefeated regular season. With the win, Malden Catholic (11-6-3) sealed its bid to compete for a third straight title.

Tournament most valuable player Ara Nazarian scored on a power play with 6 minutes, 18 seconds left in regulation for the game’s lone tally. He knocked home a rebound that ricocheted off the end boards and came right to the sophomore.

Nazarian’s goal came after the most sustained period of pressure for the Panthers, who came out charging to start the final period. But Lancers goalie Connor Maloney turned aside all 18 shots he faced, and was assisted by a defense that packed the middle on Cathedral’s forwards.

“Both teams had some great chances,” said Leonard. “But their defensemen stayed up at the blue line and pinched in on us, so it was tough to get a lot of quality shots on net.”

The power play was awarded when defenseman Matt Foley’s stick exploded on an attempted shot from the right point. A Malden player started to take off with the puck when he and Foley collided, causing the senior to be called for a tripping penalty.

“That was a tough break, especially since we were putting pressure on, but that’s hockey,” Cathedral coach Brian Foley said. “Both teams played a solid game, and they took advantage of a break. They’re fighting for as good a seed as possible and we had a lot to play for.”

Cathedral junior goalie John Liquori was spectacular, making 25 saves. Liquori, Matt Foley and forward Artie Potter were named to the all-tournament team.

The Panthers will still be in the running for the No. 1 seed, but their loss Thursday strengthens the case for a couple other hopefuls. The seedings will be determined Saturday at MIAA headquarters in Franklin.

“The No. 1 should come down to St. John’s Prep and Cathedral, but you never know how it might shake out,” said Brian Foley. “There are a lot of good teams, but I’d be surprised if we fell farther than No. 2. We’re not too concerned about our seed. Now that we’ve felt the bitterness of a loss, we can’t wait to play our next game.”

Leonard wrapped up his first varsity regular season with 15 goals and eight assists, making him the second-highest goal scorer on the team and placing him third in total points.

“Fifteen goals as a freshman is a fantastic accomplishment, Johnny’s really had a great year so far for us,” said Foley. “He’s got good presence out there, good hands. He’s a really skilled player, and we have a lot of talented young guys.”

Leonard’s best opportunity on Thursday came in the first when Dominic Blad sent him into the attacking zone with a step on the defenseman, but Maloney stopped the shot.

“We know we have to bounce back quickly and come back strong,” said Leonard. “It definitely hurts to lose, but we can’t let it get to us too much. We have to use the momentum we’ve gathered throughout the season and bring it into the Super 8. Our line needs to keep creating chances and put some goals in the net.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mjwilk1237.

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