Deerfield’s Ben Zaranek backstops Super 8 finalist Pope Francis


  • Deerfield’s Ben Zaranek is shown in goal for Pope Francis during the season. The Cardinals play BC High in the Super 8 championship, Sunday at TD Garden in Boston. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2019 9:43:23 PM

Ask Pope Francis High School goalie Ben Zaranek what his mindset is like trying to protect a third-period lead during the Super 8 hockey semifinals last week against top-seeded Boston College High School and the sophomore sounds like a seasoned veteran.

“It’s really just about staying calm and not trying to get too excited with the lead,” he explained. “And I really trust my defense a lot.”

The Deerfield resident will be right back in goal Sunday afternoon when the two teams face off again at TD Garden in Boston at 5:45 p.m. for the Super 8 championship.

Joining Zaranek are several players from Hampshire County: Logan Dapprich, of Amherst; Dillon Foster, of Williamsburg; Jack Kennedy, of Granby; Spencer Stewart, of Amherst; Connor Wodecki, of Easthampton; and Charles Wykowski, of South Hadley.

“It’s really exciting,” Zaranek said. “There will definitely be a little nerves, but a lot more excitement, too. I will just try to do my job and I trust everybody else will do their job and that’s what we need to do to win.”

Zaranek — whose father Mike is the golf pro at Brattleboro Country Club and has previously been a golf pro at Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston, as well as Crestview Country Club in Agawam — almost did not have this opportunity. He initially applied to go to Deerfield Academy prior to his freshman year of high school but wound up making a decision in the summer to attend Pope Francis, which accepted him. His next challenge was making the school’s hockey team, which is the best team in western Mass. and does not play against any other teams in the western part of the state.

Zaranek began playing hockey when he was 5 in an Amherst Hockey Association program, and switched to goaltender when he was 8. He began playing for the Springfield Rifles in third grade and has remained with them since. Still, going from being the lone goalie on his Rifles team to competing for a job on one of the best teams in the state was a different kind of challenge.

“I never really had any other goalies on my Rifles teams growing up,” Zaranek said. “I was just doing whatever I could.”

It worked. As a freshman, Zaranek split time with junior netminder Victor Larssen for a Pope Francis team that went into the Super 8 tournament as the seventh-seeded team at 16-3-3. The Cardinals lost to second-seeded BC High in the opening round of the tournament, but unlike other tourneys in the state, the Super 8 has a losers bracket.

Pope Francis defeated Burlington, 3-2, then beat No. 1 Central Catholic, 4-1, No. 3 St. John’s Prep, 5-1, and No. 4 Hingham, 6-0, to emerge from the losers bracket and get into the finals, where they faced BC High in a winner-take-all game. That game went to overtime before BC High prevailed, 2-1. Zaranek saw time in three games during the tournament run, but did not play in the championship game.

Coming into this season, Zaranek said he knew that the Cardinals were primed for another successful year. He and Larrsen again split time during the regular season, but Zaranek has gotten the nod in the tournament. Pope Francis earned the second seed in the field after going 15-1-3. The Cardinals then defeated No. 7 Xaverian (6-2), No. 3 Hingham (5-2) and No. 1 BC High (3-2).

On Monday against BC High, the Eagles tied the game at 2-2 in the third, but Jon Tavella scored on a one-timer with 2:21 to play to give Pope Francis the lead. Zaranek and the defense made sure it stood up, denying BC High over the remainder of the game.

After the game, Pope Francis coach Brian Foley was quoted as saying that he believes Zaranek is “the best goalie in the state.”

“It’s great having a coach who supports me that much,” the netminder said.

Now, Zaranek and the Cardinals get BC High again on Sunday in the finals after BC High defeated Xaverian, 7-4, in the losers bracket finals.

“We just have to take away their time and space,” Zaranek said. “We need to play our game.”

Do that, and the Cardinals could walk away with Pope Francis’ first state championship, as well as representing hockey across the western part of the state.

“The (eastern) schools definitely do not like us and they hate getting beat by us,” Zaranek joked.

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