Div. 1 boys hockey: Pope Francis rallies past Xaverian to capture program’s first-ever state title (PHOTOS)


Staff Writer

Published: 03-19-2023 5:13 PM

BOSTON – Before the MIAA Division 1 state championship game Sunday against Xaverian, Pope Francis coach Brian Foley encouraged the Cardinals to take 60 seconds and soak in TD Garden’s bright lights. Feel the moment. 

“It's pretty surreal, but we just have to take it in and then leave it behind and play hockey,” said Pope Francis senior Ryan O’Leary, an Easthampton native.

What they did after that minute will last forever.

No. 4 Pope Francis rallied twice against No. 7 Xaverian to win its first state championship, 3-2. The Cardinals became the first Western Massachusetts team to win a Division 1 state championship since West Springfield in 1952.

“These kids take a lot of pride in playing for their school but also the whole community of Western Mass.,” Foley said.

Senior forward Josh Iby tapped home his second goal of the game with just 25.2 seconds remaining to put Pope Francis ahead just before the whistle. Maurice Kearney fed him a pass across the crease that Iby tucked into the back of the net.

“That goal with 25 seconds [left] was a sigh of relief, but we knew they were going to come at us extra hard,” said Pope Francis junior Zach Buffone, a Belchertown native. “It was stressful but a sigh of relief when the puck went in.”

No one sighed louder than Foley. He manned the bench for both of the Cardinals two recent TD Garden trips in 2018 and 2019. Both ended in 2-1 OT losses against BC High, while the 2019 edition took four overtimes.

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“Not again, you know, I just did not want to see (overtime) again,” Foley said.

That was the Cardinals’ last trip to a state championship game, though they were supposed to play Arlington at the Garden in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled that year’s state finals. Pope Francis was named co-champion along with Arlington.

“We didn’t count that as a championship. Coach Foley talked about it and that he didn’t count it as a championship,” Buffone said. “This was our way to get at everyone and get the state title.”

Pope Francis won four consecutive one-goal games to claim the crown.

“They just keep finding a different way to win,” Foley said.

The Cardinals (21-2-4) only led for the final 25.2 seconds. They trailed after just 8 minutes, 19 seconds when Xaverian turned Pope Francis over, and Jackson Morse fed Devin Gosiak for a tipped goal to put the Hawks up 1-0.

“We made a lot of uncharacteristic mental errors. There was certainly our fair share of mistakes out there,” Foley said. “But they grinded through it. The first period was a little sloppy, but we got out of there.”

Pope Francis capitalized on a Xaverian penalty barely two minutes later when Iby hammered home a pass from Jacob Jerell.

The Cardinals allowed a penalty shot in the opening 27 seconds of the second period, but Pope Francis goalie Nick Ritchie (15 saves) read every move from Joe DiMartino and kept the game 1-1.

Xaverian handed the Cardinals an even sweeter opportunity with 10:13 left in the second after a double minor gave Pope Francis a four-minute power play. But the Hawks converted with a shorthanded goal by Sean Conolly, slamming home a rebound following a turnover.

“We knew that it was our fault. It was our mistake. It wasn't going to be them that was going to score on us it was gonna be us that gave up the goal,” O’Leary said. “So we had to keep plugging away and playing our game.”

That meant crisp passing that O’Leary finished to knot the game again at 2. He tapped a pinpoint pass from Nick Petkovich into a wide-open net with 2:39 left on the second period clock.

“It was huge just because we were working so hard,” O’Leary said. “There was a little frustration on the bench just because pucks weren't going our way, bounces weren't going our way, but we knew eventually we were gonna get one.”

They got two and added their names to a very short list.

“Going back to Cathedral there's such a legacy of greatness and great players that come out of here from all over Western Mass., and we want to carry on and build on it,” O’Leary said.

They’re part of it now.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>