MARLBOROUGH – The Saint John’s fan section – rowdy, loud, and boisterous all afternoon – drew eerily quiet in the final minutes of action. After leading 3-1 with eight minutes remaining, the fans nervously – and quietly – watched as intra-town rival Shrewsbury quickly evened the score.
The last minute of play was particularly harrowing. The Pioneers and Colonials each had opportunities, but the goalkeepers – Shrewsbury’s Alan Grebelsky and Saint John’s Dylan Fanale – kept the game even with several clutch saves. As the capacity crowd at New England Sports Center prepared for overtime, Saint John’s Luke May grabbed the puck.
May found some open ice, skated forward, and pulled the puck to his left-hand side. May saw Connor McKenna – an open teammate – in his peripheral vision, but also spotted an opportunity. With the defense quickly closing, May took his shot, firing the puck into the top-right corner of the net. The goal, made with 30.6 seconds remaining, put St. John’s ahead 4-3.
“I just saw that it was wide open – the far side. I just shot it. I was looking for the pass first to Connor [McKenna], but I saw the [defense] drop down, so I felt like I had to shoot it. I just wanted to put the puck on the net and see if I could make something happen,” May told the Community Advocate after the game.
As the Pioneer players celebrated the goal, the Saint John’s fan section followed suit, returning to their exuberant, animated status quo. The Shrewsbury fan section, equally as spirited as their cross-town rival throughout the game, was forced to accept New Year’s Eve defeat.
The Shrewsbury-St. John’s rivalry has promised down-to-the-wire finishes in almost every arena. In September, the Colonials’ football team pulled away from the Pioneers with 14 seconds remaining. Just last week, Shrewsbury basketball bested St. John’s in an overtime thriller. May’s 30.6-second-remaining game-winner is yet another chapter in this storied rivalry.
“Any time you play Shrewsbury in any sport it’s going to be an exciting game. Records go out the window, talent goes out the window, it’s a game that’s played with emotion and heart,” said Saint John’s Head Coach Michael Mead, noting that he was proud of the resilience his team displayed.
For Dylan Fanale – the Saint John’s goaltender who hails from Shrewsbury – the rivalry is extra special.
“I’ve been going to this game since I was 11 years old – I’ve been dreaming about playing in this game for a long time… As coach said, in a game like this, skill goes out the window, it’s all emotional. It’s all about who controls their emotions the best. It’s definitely something I’ve looked forward to all year,” he said.
Even non-Shrewsbury residents, like May, have become engrossed in the rivalry.
“Coming in to Saint John’s – I’m from Charlton, which is like 30 minutes away – I didn’t understand the rivalry, but I remember sophomore year when I stepped on that ice, I understood. It’s crazy,” May said. “Scoring a goal like that with that many people there… It’s a good feeling, especially since it’s our rival and we haven’t beaten them in many sports this year, so it’s good to get this under our belt.”
Both teams scored first-period goals. Saint John’s freshman Chase Warsofsky – assisted by Daniel Menyalkin and Conor Secrist – got the Pioneers on the board, and Shrewsbury’s Shawn Salt – assisted by Gino Evangelous – soon evened the score at 1-1.
The second period, however, belonged to Saint John’s. Just minutes into the period, Luke Gerardi put the Pioneers ahead 2-1, and Dominic Reidy extended Saint John’s lead to 3-1 roughly six minutes later. If not for several close-range saves from Grebelsky, the Pioneer lead may have ballooned further.
The Saint John’s lead seemed safe, but Shrewsbury wouldn’t go down without a fight. Shrewsbury’s Ryan Kelley scored with eight minutes remaining to bring the Colonials within one, and with 3:35 remaining, Evangelous rebounded the puck, firing it into the back of the net to tie the game.
May’s game-winning shot would secure the win for Saint John’s.
With the victory, St. John’s hopes to enter 2024 with momentum.
“For us, our next game is against the Catholic Conference, and then we play the Catholic Conference for our next 10 games, so this will carry us into that. That momentum of being ready for the next month, next year – we never have a night off with our schedule, so hopefully this game carries us into our Catholic Conference schedule,” said Mead.
Fanale, still soaking in the win, remained mindful about the Pioneers upcoming schedule.
“Job’s not done at the end of the day,” he said.