Belmont Boys’ Hockey Falls To Xaverian, 2-1, As Season, Playoff Run Ends

Photo: Belmont High sophomore Michael Pomer on the attack against Xaverian in the quarterfinals of the 2022 MIAA Division 1 ice hockey tournament.

The playoff run for Belmont High’s boys’ ice hockey squad ended on a dreary Saturday afternoon in far off Attleboro.

The defense and goaltending that gave up just 25 goals in 22 games was keeping Belmont High in its Division 1 boys’ hockey quarterfinals with Xaverian Brothers High. The Hawks relentless offense and clear shots should have given the opponent more than a single goal deep in the third period but for senior standout goaltender Ryan Griffin who stopped 43 of 44 shots late in the stanza.

Yet in the end, the consistent pressure the Hawks applied in Belmont’s end of the ice foretold the playoff game’s outcome as the Hawks’ senior forward Max Lockwood steered in an in-close rebound on his team’s 45th shot on net with just under four minutes remaining to seal a 2-1 victory over Belmont, sending the Xaverian (19-3-1) into the state semifinals where they meet Arlington on Tuesday, March 15.

Belmont ends the season at 19-2-3 with the program’s second deep playoff run in as many tournaments.

“Great season, great game. We played our usual game, we weren’t going to deviate from that,” said Belmont’s first year head coach Tim Foley postgame. “We have to strike when the opportunity presents itself. We had a couple of chances but didn’t really capitalize on them.”

Belmont High’s senior Matty Rowen and Xaverian’s Max Lockwood face off in the first period of the quarterfinal of the 2022 MIAA Division 1 Boys’ Ice Hockey championships in Attleboro.

“We had nothing left on the bench when this game was over which is all you can ask for,” he said.

Belmont fans and student supporters – bused to the game thanks to a donated bus paid for by Lynn Findlay Homes – hoofed the 80-mile round trip to Attleboro to provide a true playoff experience for the Marauders who were very much the away team.

As they had done all year, Belmont “wanted to jump on them right from the start” said Foley to grab an early lead. With the drop of the puck, Belmont skated by the Xaverian defense and just missed going up in the first 10 seconds as a shot deflected just beyond junior Cam Fici’s reach at the doorstep.

On the other end, the Hawks’ came out banging, looking to sit any Marauder with the puck onto the ice. The Hawks’ game plan was to spread out its forwards and breakout with long “stretch” passes or solo carry the puck deep into Belmont’s defensive zone, somewhat negating the Marauders defensive set up on blocking passing lanes and winning the stick-on-stick battles.

“We knew that was coming and and think we were successful most of the game. But they really dug in and played their game,” said Foley.

Xaverian broke through midway into the first on a text book passing play had the Marauder defense somewhat static leaving junior first liner Joe DiMartino wide-open in front to beat Griffin.

The Marauders spent most of the second watching Xaverian control the puck deep in the Belmont end as Griffin made a series of one-on-one saves. As the clock ticked down to the end of the period, that one opportunity the Marauders were hoping for opened and they took advantage.

Belmont High before the game vs Xaverian in the 2022 MIAA Div. 1 boy’s hockey tournament.

While on the penalty kill, junior defender Joe Gaziano sent junior Shay Donahue and Fici away on a two-on-two break. With both Xaverian defenders preoccupied by Fici – who scored 35 goals in the season – Donahue shot from the left slot was blocked but landing back down on his stick. The junior would not miss from six feet away knotting up match at one with two minutes remaining.

While reminiscent of Marco Santagati’s shorthand goal in Belmont’s 2020 Division 1 semi-final classic vs St. John’s (Shrewsbury) tying that game late, the Marauders could not capitalize on the change of momentum that included a power play that stretched into the third.

Soon Griffin was under assault as the Hawks would station a player at the top of the crease to bang away at every advantage. The stubborn Belmont defense led by Gaziano and junior Peter Grace finally cracked when Lockwood scored from right of the goal with just under three minutes to play. With Griffin pulled, Belmont could only send a few long distance testers at senior goaltender Brendan Flanagan as the horn sounded.

Speaking to his team after the game, Foley told the senior class they “have a lot to be proud of … and had nothing to be ashamed of the way they played and competed in every single game of this season.”

“I know going forward in life, I have no worries that’s any of them rate going to be anything but a success because of the way they performed on the ice and conducted themselves with class everywhere they went,” he said.

Day after the quarterfinals, Belmont High team mates surround Cam Fici after he was recognized by Belmont Youth Hockey for his dedication to learn to skate instruction.

Thank You, Power Ranking: Three Belmont Teams Make Their State Tourneys Under New System

Photo: Belmont High Girls’ Volleyball starts tourney play on Nov. 4

Jen Couture, Belmont High Volleyball head coach, was joking – a bit – when discussing her team as it wrapped up the 2021 fall season last week.

“Best 7-11 team ever, huh?” she said.

In fact, Belmont IS the best 7-11 volleyball team, at least, in the context that the Marauders will be taking its below .500 record into the MIAA Division 1 state tournament. Just two years ago, a similar “losing” season would have seen the team packing their uniforms early. But in 2021, Volleyball is joining Field Hockey (6-10-0) and Boys’ Soccer (6-9-3) into the playoff brackets with a more defeats than victories to their names.

What gives?

The reason a trio of Belmont squads have a chance make some post season noise is the new process instituted this year by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. For the first time, teams are not judged by their win/loss records but ranked under a formula that considers how strong each opponents’ schedule is and the team’s average margin of victory. Under this system, playing well against top ranked teams is rewarded even if your team suffers losses during the season while defeating weak squads by a small margin could see you tumble in the rankings.

The Division 1 tournament for Belmont’s fall teams starts on Thursday, Nov. 4 with Volleyball at 10th seed Lincoln-Sudbury Regional (14-6) at 4:30 p.m. and then the 28th ranked Boys Soccer (6-9-3) hosting Peabody (8-8-1) at 7 p.m. Field Hockey (30th ranked at 6-10) ventures up Route 2 to meet its traditional pre-season opponent third-seed Concord-Carlisle (16-1-1) on Friday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m.

The overall ranking decides if a team is one of the 32 teams that make the playoffs and their seeding in the tournament. A team’s win/loss record only comes into the mix if a squad is outside the top 32 but has a winning – above .500 – record. And then they are required to meet one of the lowest seeds, starting with the 32nd ranked team in a play-in match.

If the MIAA had followed the playoff criteria from previous years based on a team’s victories and defeats, every Belmont’s fall team – boys’ golf and girls’ swimming state championships are determined at single event meets and matches – would have failed to make the tournament.

Belmont’s teams benefited from being in a very competitive conference, the Middlesex League, with a number of strong teams. For example, Field Hockey faced three of the top 12 teams in the state twice during the season. Because the three top teams have very high ratings, just playing them is important in making the tournament. In their second games against Winchester and Arlington, Belmont kept the margin of victory of their opponents to less than the three – which is the maximum amount the ranking will count for or against a team – which prevented the Marauders from slipping out of the tournament as they placed 30th.

For volleyball, the new system doesn’t punish the team ending the season on one of the most brutal seven match losing streaks in team history, five of those losses going the distance, 3 sets to 2. But due to the tough schedule it faced, Belmont is ranked 23rd, one place higher than Natick High (10-4), three better than Wellesley (11-6) and five notches greater than Bridgewater-Raynham which finished the year at 12-5.

Boys soccer also found itself on the wrong end of an early season seven game bad beat, which in previous seasons would have been fatal to its chances making the playoffs. But a win against Winchester and two memorable ties vs top-ranked Melrose and Arlington saw the Marauders slide in seeded 28th with a play in game to come.

Yet losing to underrated teams or playing a slew of weak squads has dashed the fortunes of Girls Soccer (5-6-5) and Belmont High Football. Belmont’s Hall of Fame Girls Soccer Head Coach Paul Graham lamented his team’s losses to “small schools” Wakefield and Stoneham – those in the Middlesex League Freedom division – which the Marauders would traditionally skim by. A 1-1 tie against three-win Watertown, which hadn’t scored a goal against Belmont in 30 years, and a 5-0 home defeat against Arlington in the season finale was just enough to place the Marauders 34th in Division 1, the first team that missed the tournament as the 33rd placed squad had a better than .500 record and is in a play-in game.

While the football team (4-4) has had a great start to the season, the four wins came against opponents with a combined record of 3-28, which put the Marauders behind the eight ball early. And while Belmont finished the regular season with a one-point loss to 6-1 Woburn, they lost big to middle-of-the-road Wakefield (4-3) and Arlington (3-4) which saw them fall to 25th where the first 16 in Division 2 made the post season.