By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Having been snake bitten in each of the past two seasons with one-goal playoff losses – including a painful overtime shootout to eventual state-finalist Algonquin Regional High School in 2016 – there was overt determination that no allowance of a ‘three-peat’ would occur for the top-seed Shrewsbury High School hockey team.
The undefeated and spirited Colonials took to the ice at Fitchburg’s jam-packed Wallace Civic Center March 12 looking to reverse their recent playoff misfortunes and did just that quite handily with a 4-1 victory over second-seed Wachusett Regional High School in the Central Mass. Division 3 Tournament. Shrewsbury (21-0-1) moved on to face Western champion Westfield High School (17-5) March 15 at Springfield’s MassMutual Center in a state semifinal.
“I feel like our expectations are always high and we have to live up to them,” said junior goaltender Pat Shaughnessy. “The whole regular season we were driven to get here from memories of not being there last year.”
“This is just amazing. It’s the best feeling in the world,” echoed senior captain Matt Ward. “The last two years we had a couple of difficult losses at this rink so to come here this year and finally get it done, it feels incredible.”
Wachusett would score their only goal on the night at 5:48 of the first period when senior Caulin Hanify snapped home a rebound with assists credited to Liam Comeau and Kevin Skagerlind. The quick score was admittedly a wake-up call for the Colonial bench.
“We came in expecting their best and we came out a little slow,” Ward admitted. “I think once they scored we kind of boosted our energy and said ‘hey boys, it’s time here and we have to get going.’ Then we popped in three goals and we went into the first intermission with all the momentum we could get.”
Those three goals came in quick succession in the first period in a span of six minutes coming off the sticks of Conall Persechino, James Tepper and Liam Quinlivan. Ward would cash in with an unassisted third-period goal, but it was the early Shrewsbury blitz that was too much for Wachusett to overcome.
“The whole objective was to get the first goal but once we tied it up we just poured it on,” said head coach Steve Turnblom. “Our defense played real good tonight and our goaltender was superb. Tonight we got an extraordinary effort from our players and we knew we were going to need it against a good team like Wachusett.
“Wachusett is well-coached. We knew they’d come up with some kind of scheme and we were trying to figure out what they were doing early on. You can have all the schemes you want but what matters is that the kids come out and play as hard as they do.”
Defense and steady goaltending have been Turnblom’s emphasis all season.
“We have the best defense in the league. I couldn’t ask for better defense,” Shaughnessy said. “They left it all out there today and it showed on the scoreboard. We knew Wachusett had great offense. They’re a great team. We knew they were going to come out firing.”
“Pat Shaughnessy, our starting goaltender, just took the job and he ran with it,” added Ward. “He’s been amazing for us all year. We have all the confidence in him back there. Our two assistant captains James Abbott and Joe Walton along with Conall Persechino and our other two defensemen Tim Fitzpatrick and Alec Buduo have locked it down all year. I have all the confidence in the world with them out there. They’ve been huge for us.”
“The team that was better today won the game,” said Wachusett head coach Matt Lane. “I give a lot of credit to Shrewsbury. They’re a phenomenal hockey team and I hope they win it for central Mass. They were physical. They were strong. We had a couple of chances here and there but their goaltender came up big.”
The Colonials advanced to the title game with a nail-biter 2-1 double-overtime victory over Marlborough High School March 7. The tightness of the game exhumed painful memories of a year ago when top-seed Shrewsbury fell to Algonquin in a shootout, but this time the outcome would be different.
With just over a minute remaining in the second overtime period, twin brothers Liam and Anthony Quinlivan teamed up to send Colonial fans home elated when Liam found Anthony open and waiting for a shot that would find the back of the Panther net for a 2-1 victory.