Assumption rallies; takes down St. Michael’s in OT in title game

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – Assumption College senior Ryan Gomez scored 4:41 into overtime, as the No. 2 Saint Michael’s College men’s ice hockey team fell to the fourth-seeded Greyhounds, 3-2, during the Northeast-10 Conference Championship title game on Saturday in a sold-out Cairns Arena. The Purple Knights, who finished as NE10 tournament runners-up for the third time in four years, ended the year 9-16-2. Assumption is 11-15-2, winning the first postseason crown in program history.

Sophomore Colin Biebel (Roxborough Park, Colo./Walpole Express) recorded his first career multi-goal game, netting both Purple and Gold tallies, as Saint Michael’s took its first setback in five all-time one-goal NE10 championship contests. Classmate Sam D’Antuono (Hingham, Mass./Dexter School) went 18-of-29 on faceoffs, while junior Eric Salzillo (Johnston, R.I./Boston Bandits) was 13-for-22. Biebel and D’Antuono both landed spots on the NE10 Championship All-Tournament Team. Sophomore Chris Johnson (Duxbury, Mass./Pomfret School) made 27 saves, moving his season total to 828 and coming within nine of Simon Theberge’s ’02 16-year-old school record. He passed Tyler Bilton ’09 (806 in 2007-08) in the process.

Senior Justin McKenzie (Hawthorne, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) was 11-of-20 on draws during his final college contest, while classmate Danny Divis (Media, Pa./Minnesota Wilderness) dished off an assist and joined senior Stephen Inman (Coventry, R.I./Odessa Jackalopes) in making the 100th appearance of their careers. Only 16 Purple Knights have ever done so. With the helper, Divis, a defenseman, tied Pat Williams ’86 and Jonathan Perez ’06 for 19th in program history with 49 career assists. Senior Connor Mitchell (New Milford, Conn./Kent School) closed his career with his 104th appearance, good for fifth all time.

First-year John McDonagh led Assumption with a goal and an assist, while sophomore Sam Kelly also found the back of the net. Senior Nick Commesso turned aside 65 shots.

The Purple Knights held a 26-6 advantage in shots during the opening period, while Biebel found the back of the net twice. Just 3:37 into the game, he potted his first. After sophomore Jack Ouellette’s (Arlington, Mass./Dexter School) initial shot from the point was stopped, Biebel grabbed the rebound on the doorstep and slid the puck past Commesso. The goalie came up with a pair of stops during shorthanded 1-on-1 rushes by Saint Michael’s within the next two minutes, keeping it 1-0, and Johnson made his first stop of the contest at 9:34, kicking away junior Cam Laughlin’s shot after the forward skated through the left circle. Biebel doubled the lead at 11:52, firing a shot from the left circle that Commesso juggled before it slipped in the short side.

Sophomore Nic Hermary (Coquitlam, British Columbia/Melfort Mustangs) concluded a harried sequence out front by slipping a shot into a prone Commesso at 15:52, and the goalie came up with a handful of nice glove saves in the waning minutes. Divis nearly added to the lead but had a tough-angle shot cleared off the goal line by a Greyhound skater at 16:20. Johnson turned away a pair of late shots, again kicking away a Laughlin attempt at 18:33 before denying junior Tommy Mahoney’s bid out front with eight seconds to go.

Saint Michael’s held a narrow 17-14 edge in shots during the second stanza, with the Greyhounds slicing into their deficit. Johnson made a pair of difficult saves early on, denying junior Matt Cowles’ power-play slapper through traffic at 3:17 before turning away McDonagh’s follow-up with his left pad, leading to a breakout for the Purple Knights. After Commesso was displaced from the goal, Dickman scored at 3:32, but the goal was waved off due to contact with the netminder. Sophomore Peter McDonagh tried beating Johnson on a shorthanded bid by wrapping around behind the net but was stopped a 9:42, and Johnson saved Gomez’s tip-in try out front at 14:15 before covering the loose puck. However, Kelly’s individual effort cut the deficit to 2-1 20 seconds later, as he skated through the slot and went to his backhand while finishing to the top left of the net.

After each team rung the post in the opening 5:10 of the third period, McDonagh tied the game at 7:17, slipping a shot from the left point through a screen and over Johnson’s shoulder. Off of a rebound, a Purple Knight missed an open net at 9:10, and Johnson kept the game tied in the latter portion of the stanza, stopping Gomez’s shot from the slot at 14:00 before turning away Laughlin’s follow-up bid with his left toe. A Greyhound rung the post with 1:30 left, and D’Antuono and senior Josh Dickman (Kapaa, Hawaii/Saint Paul’s School) had consecutive bids out front stopped with a little less than a minute remaining in regulation. Johnson held the right post for a stop at 33 seconds before rushing from his crease to beat Laughlin to a 50/50 puck in the right circle just five seconds later, knocking the puck further into open ice. The follow-up try by a Greyhound on a nearly empty net slid beyond the right post and around the net, and the teams went to overtime.

Early in the extra session, Salzillo forced Commesso to slide to his right for a stop 14 seconds in, and Mitchell made a shorthanded rush into the slot soon thereafter, ripping a bid toward the right corner at 17:36 that the goalie trapped against his left shoulder. Saint Michael’s successfully killed off the penalty without incident, and Biebel’s attempt at completing his hat trick with a little more than four minutes gone was denied before Gomez countered at the other end. From behind the net, sophomore Mac Carnes dished out front for Gomez, who squeezed a shot inside the left post at 4:41. It was Assumption’s lone shot of the overtime period.

Saint Michael’s met Assumption for the seventh time in a postseason contest, sliding to 4-3, but for the first time in a title game. The Purple Knights are 18-7-1 all time at home during postseason play, including 12-5 in Cairns Arena. Johnson heads into his junior year with 1,453 career saves, good for seventh in program annals, while standing eighth in minutes (2,512:27). He had one of the best seasons by a Saint Michael’s goaltender ever this winter, recording the second-highest save percentage (.904), the second-most minutes (1,471:16) and the fifth-best goals-against average (3.59). Among the nine seniors whose final game occurred on Saturday was Shawn Morrow (East Greenbush, N.Y./Kent School), who was injured against Southern New Hampshire University on Jan. 17 before ostensibly missing the next nine games, only dressing for the opening shift on Senior Day against Norwich University on Feb. 11. Morrow returned to win five faceoffs versus Assumption during the NE10 title game.

It was the last game for senior defenseman Caleb Lothian, of Franklin, Vt., who made an impact early in the game with a number of big hits and blocked shots in the first period. He finishes his career as a Purple Knight playing in 78 games with nine points.

— Story provided by St. Michael’s Athletic Department

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