Photo: Belmont High sophomore forward Adam Bauer celebrates his goal 31 seconds into the playoff contest with Xaverian Bros, March 5, 2023 in Canton
The Belmont High Boys’ Hockey coaching staff could not have drawn up a more perfect start to its MIAA tourney matchup against Xaverian Brothers High School. A spot-on pass by senior forward Cam Fici allowed sophomore forward Adam Bauer the space to rocket the first shot of the game past Hawks’ junior goalie Cole Pouliot-Porter giving the Marauders a dream start just 31 seconds into its Sweet 16 contest played Sunday afternoon, March 5 in Canton.
But the reality of a one-zip code team battling a regional all-star squad soon became apparent as Xaverian would pull even two minutes later and take the lead by the end of the first period. And despite a late charge by Belmont in the final stanza, the Hawks scored twice in the last 10 minutes to pick up the 5-2 victory, eliminating the Marauders from the Division 1 tournament for the second year running.
Belmont ends the season at 14-7-3.
For Belmont’s Head Coach Tim Foley, his team had a lot to be proud on their performance Sunday.
“We played hard but they have a little more depth and had their share of good bounces here and there,” said Foley. “But we don’t make excuses. We can compete with anybody; we’re talented enough, we’re strong enough and good enough. We just came out on the wrong end of the final score.”
“My father would say you have two choices: ‘you can accept the challenge in front of you or you can fold up like an accordion’ and I didn’t see any accordions out on the ice today,” said Foley.
After playing a near flawless game in the first round shutout of Chelmsford – a team which beat Xaverian, 3-1, in late January – and going up early, Foley said Xaverian “came hard at us and the harder that you work the more opportunities you make for yourself.”
During the first period, Belmont was victimized by two goals that came after Marauder miscues. After Belmont failed to clear its zone, the Hawks’ senior Joe Di Martino slotted a low wrister across Belmont senior goalie Greg Federico and inside the right post to knot the contest up. At the midpoint of the period, a loose puck was not picked up by Belmont, leaving it up for third line sophomore Jackson Morse to handcuff Federico.
One the other end of the ledger, Bauer came close to doubling his goal tally tipping a shot that forced a right pad save from Pouliot-Porter while his counter part Federico stoned a clear break to keep the margin at one at the end of the first.
Soon after taking a two goal lead early in the second, Xaverian transitioned from playing the puck to punishing to body. Late hits, stray elbows, chirping from the bench, piling into Federico’s crease – with the expected retaliatory cross check – and the usual collection of cheap shots associated with the nasties.
“It’s the way they play,” said Foley. “They play a very chippy game and it’s not always clean.”
When the refs began cracking down on the argie bargie, it was usually one from each team heading to the box – the Hawks collected nine penalties including one 10 minute misconduct as Belmont took eight bookings – not providing Belmont the advantage those who are assaulted should expect. The Hawks’ rockum’ sockum’ tactics had its desired impact on the game, destroying any sense of rhythm on the ice and wearing down the battered Belmont players.
“They tried to keep us off our game and we kind of fell into it a little bit,” said Foley. “We have a lot of physically tough players … and we certainly were not going to back down from a challenge.”
The first minutes of the third provided the Marauders with a semblance of hope as senior defender Joe Gaziano took a back pass from Bauer and beat Pouliot-Porter with a classy backhander 90 seconds into the final frame to reduce the deficit to one, 3-2.
But that late lifeline was cut a minute and a half later by the prettiest goal of the early afternoon; a pass deep to the left side of Frederico, followed by a quick one timer to senior Liam Capplis sitting all alone out in front in the slot and, well, that was that. 4-2. The final nail came was driven in five and a half left in a solid season. Despite the score, Belmont would not stop looking for that next goal, with Fici being denied a final goal in his stellar career when his snap shot clanged off the post in the final 10 seconds.
While the team understandably took their time leaving the locker room – nine seniors for the final time – before their long ride home, Foley said the players accomplished much in a season with one of the toughest schedules in program history, playing 10 of the top 20 Division 1 teams.
“We certainly came out competitive in almost every game. The kids were battle tested [playing the schedule] and we did it for games like these. I’m very proud of the team, proud of how hard they worked in practice everyday,” said Foley.
There will be quite a bit of rebuilding for next year’s team, replacing three of four top line defenders – Gaziano, co-captain Peter Grace and Theo Martin – a varsity goalie and the squad’s two leading scorers in Fici and co-captain Shay Donahue. Yet Foley said there appears to be a good-size talent pool of new high school players on the way, with a great deal to live up to.
“The seniors that are leaving certainly had a great career over the last four years,” said Foley. “They’re leaving a good message and a good work ethic behind for the younger kids. So I think the future is bright.”