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As far as defensive performances in a loss go youâd be hard pressed to find a better effort than that of the Prout boys hockey teamâs Saturday.
The Crusaders may have fallen short â dropping a 3-2 overtime decision in game two â of winning the Division II Championship this winter but it wasnât a result of lack of effort.
Despite facing Lincoln â a team whose only blemish on its record was a Feb. 1 tie to Cumberland â Prout battled its way to the finish and a big reason why the Crusaders stayed competitive was their defense.
âWeâre an older, more confident group of defensemen,â senior Matt Filardo said. âWe have the strength to pretty much control the puck in front and despite a few hard grinders, Lincoln had this series.
âWe battled in the corners and I thought we didnât give up any good chances. They were a big, physical team in front and pretty even matched with us.â
Through the first two periods of Saturdayâs game the Lionsâ were held off the scoreboard and their only real great opportunity came on a breakaway for Ryan Krohto with 4:33 remaining in the second period.
Lincoln struggled to get any great scoring opportunities mainly because the Crusadersâ back check was that good.
âThe stakes are higher and guys are going to back check,â Prout coach John Gaffney said. âWeâve been emphasizing that all year.
âA couple of them â I think it was James Neri â back checked a guy that was pretty good and maybe took the puck off him.
âItâs not a stat, you see it in the stands and there were several other ones when we came back, filled the lane and werenât allowing them to make a play. Some of the back checking stuff you donât get to see it [in the stats] but itâs there.â
Each time the Lions crossed Proutâs blue line they were met by a Crusaders defender who â more often than not â did their job in a one-on-one situation.
âWhen they see an odd-man rush like that theyâll be coming in with back checkers themselves to outnumber us but itâs just important to get back and not give up any more of those rebounds,â Filardo said. âWe were just trying to take them as early as we could without giving up too much ice.â
The Lions may have scored all three of their goals in the gameâs final 20 minutes but once again Proutâs defense did its job in the situation.
Five minutes into the third period Krohto tied the game at one but the score came on the heels of a defensive stand from the Crusaders.
Prout had just forced a turnover in its own zone and was looking to mount a rush in transition.
The attack failed before it really got started though as senior Michael Reilly â one of Proutâs best players â had an uncharacteristic turnover when he lost his edge in front of the Crusadersâ net.
The mishap gave Krohto a wide open opportunity on freshman Austin Gemma and the Prout goalkeeper never stood a chance.
Lincolnâs next goal came on the heels of a highly questionable slashing penalty on senior Justin Mateus with 7:37 remaining in the game.
The Lions scored just 31 seconds into the penalty after Gemma made the initial save on a Chris Leclerc shot and the puck ricocheted to Jerzy Polak on the weak side.
Polak was wide open on the opposite side of the net for the rebound, which could be considered a rotational miscue but then again they call it a man advantage for a reason.
Fortunately for the Crusaders Mateus had the answer to force overtime and in the extra four-on-four session Proutâs defense continued to play strong.
On Lincolnâs game-winning goal the âDâ did its job again, forcing Griffin Hevey into a backhand from the blue line.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders it was shot that found its way into the back of the net to win the game.