St. Joe, Wahconah Icers Fall in Semis

By Stephen Sports
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Crusaders goalie Andrew Leitch had 53 saves for the night. See more photos here.
WEST SPRINGIELD, Mass. — In its late-season run to secure a Western Massachusetts Division 3A tournament bid, the St. Joseph hockey team showed that it can finish strong.

On Monday night, the Crusaders ran out of time.

St. Joe's third-period rally fell short in the regional semi-finals, as third-seeded South Hadley earned a 3-2 victory at the Olympia Ice Center.

South Hadley moved on to the final to meet Agawam, which cruised to a 9-4 win over Wahconah in Monday's nightcap.

In the first game, St. Joseph senior Andrew Leitch made 53 saves, but the Tigers generated just enough offense to end a brilliant career for the senior goalkeeper.

"In our last eight games of the season, I think we were 5-2-1 ... and Andrew was a major key in our wins," St. Joe coach Tim Kelly said.

"The whole team, frankly, they feed off Andrew and Eric (Leitch) and the other seniors."

And although the Leitches and three other seniors graduate from the program after this season, their leadership will pay dividends in the future, Kelly hopes.

"The underclassmen who are working with these guys all became one team," Kelly said.

It was freshman Mike Bloom who helped settle the game down after South Hadley beat Andrew Leitch for a goal three minutes into the game.

Bloom scored from the slot with assists from Eric Leitch and freshman Andy Cella to make it 1-1 after one period.

South Hadley scored once to break the tie midway the second and had a golden opportunity to stretch its lead when the puck bounced out of a scramble in front of the net to a wide open Brian Bak, but Leitch gloved Bak's shot to keep it a one-goal margin at the second intermission.

St. Joe caught a bad break at about the five-minute mark of the third. During a scramble in front of the South Hadley goal, an official lost sight of the puck and blew his whistle a split second before it appeared in the crease in front of Tigers goalie Devin Hoagland (21 saves).

South Hadley added its insurance goal about a minute later when Thomas Crotty scored his second goal of the game, a floater from the point through a screen that made it 3-1.

But St. Joe did not give up.

When South Hadley was whistled for the game's only penalty with 2 minutes, 16 seconds on the clock, Kelly decided to pull Leitch for a 6-on-4 advantage, and Daniel Flynn made the move pay off with a goal assisted by Eric Leitch and Bloom to get the Crusaders within one.

Kelly pulled Leitch a second time with 39 seconds left, but South Hadley hung on.

Even before the puck dropped in the evening's first semi-final, it was apparent that the Tigers had one advantage: numbers. But despite skating just 17 players to the Tigers' 24, Kelly said he did not feel like depth played a role in the outcome.

"I think our team is well-conditioned," he said. "For the three periods, we can hold our own with anyone. They just never give up. They just keep pushing and pushing and pushing."

Wahconah did not give up in the nightcap, but the numerical advantage was even greater for Agawam, a team that skated three lines "without any dropoff," in the estimation of Warriors coach Don Disbrow.

Wahconah, which had just five players on its bench, had a difficult time staying with the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

But numbers have been a problem all season long for Disbrow's program.

Ryan Ouimer scored three goals for the Warriors. See more photos here.

 "The toughest thing is not having the depth and the numbers — even at practices," he said. "We're used to running drills full-ice, end-to-end, two goalies. You probably need a minimum of 12, maybe 15 skaters.

"So we had to change a lot of what I've been doing for the last five years in practice. ... We had to adjust that way. And we had two freshmen out of the 10 skaters. They had to do a lot of learning. And another kid who was a first-year player a sophomore."

Senior Ryan Ouimet scored three of Wahconah's goals on Monday night. His first, on a breakway down the left side, trimmed an early Agawam lead in half midway through the first period.

But after Ouimet made it 2-1, Agawam scored the next three goals to go up, 5-1, early in the second.

Ouimet converted a pinpoint pass from classmate Nick Montferret on a 2-on-2 break to get Wahconah back within three goals, but Agawam scored the next four to take a 9-2 lead into the second break.

Ouimet's third goal, also on a breakway, ended his night when he broke a skate blade on the play early in the third. And Montferret lit the lamp late in the third, tipping in a blast from Jeff Hancock.

Roger Stedman made 33 saves for Wahconah. Justin Lucuyer and Corey Jenks each scored two goals for Agawam.

Even on a night Wahconah fans might want to forget, Disbrow found plenty to praise in his young roster, especially the several players who moved from forward to defense this season by necessity.

"To their credit, they play well, they pick it up, they're good hockey players, they're smart hockey players," he said. "This team we played tonight has a lot of speed and a lot depth. Making that transition when you just came out of bantams as a forward to a varsity semi-final against a good team is going to be difficult."

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