Josh Iby’s game-winning goal helps No. 4 Pope Francis boys hockey claim D-I state championship over No. 7 Xaverian
BOSTON – During the final minutes of Sunday’s Division I state championship between No. 4 Pope Francis boys hockey and No. 7 Xaverian, Cardinals coach Brian Foley held his breath.
“After the second period, we knew the third period was a 15-minute game,” Foley said. “I thought we came out with more resolve and played to the best of their capabilities. That’s all we asked of them after the second period.”
The message was received as Maurice Kearney maneuvered through traffic late in the third. After splitting multiple defensemen, the junior fooled the opposition with a cross to Josh Iby, who buried a wrister along the left crease with 25.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
That late goal was the ultimate difference-maker, as Pope Francis defeated Xaverian 3-2 at TD Garden in Boston to claim its first outright D-I state championship in team history.
“It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before,” said Iby of his game-winning goal. “We knew we had the game in our hands. I thought Mossy (Kearney) would take the shot at first, but he made a great move by beating the guy backchecking. And then the defenseman in front of him slid it over, leaving me just enough room to tuck it in, and that’s game.”
Iby paced the offense with a game-high two goals, while Ryan O’Leary posted one to help the Cardinals (21-2-4) earn their fourth consecutive one-goal victory this postseason. Jacob Jarrell, Nick Petkovich, CJ Watroba, and Kearney each recorded one assist.
Nick Ritchie, meanwhile, stopped 15-of-17 shots faced in net. “I think we’re going to have a lot of new faces after this season,” said Ritchie of the team’s future. “But the mentality of the team is going to stay the same. We’ll still have to work through adversity to earn wins, but we still have a lot of good talent returning.”
Pope Francis won a share of the Super 8 title in 2020 when the championship game was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Before that, Cathedral, which merged with Holyoke Catholic to create Pope Francis, won a D-I state crown in 2003 and 2009.
And now the Cardinals can add another piece of hardware to their collection.
“It was good we were able to win it for not only that team but all of our former teams,” Foley said. “It’s been a long time because I think West Springfield was the last team in 1952 to win an undisputed D-I state championship. So it’s been a long time for Western Massachusetts.
“These kids take great pride in playing for their school and the entire community.” The teams only attempted two combined shots in seven minutes of scoreless action. That changed, though, as Xaverian earned a 2-on-1 breakaway attempt below the blue line. With defenders trailing, Jackson Morse located Devin Gosciak on a perfect lead pass, and the forward redirected it home to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead with 7:41 left on the clock.
But two minutes later, Pope Francis earned a power-play attempt. Foley has prided his team’s effort to execute on the man advantage this season. And the Cardinals didn’t disappoint, as Jarrell connected with Iby to help the team even the score at 1-1 with 5:39 remaining in the first period.
Entering the first intermission, the teams remained in a stalemate despite Pope Francis outshooting Xaverian 5-4.
Things remained interesting to begin the second, as the Hawks earned a penalty shot during the opening minute. As Joe DiMartino drew closer, he attempted to fake Ritchie right and shoot left. But the sophomore made the two-handed save to keep things tied for now.
Moments after the failed attempt, the Cardinals earned their second power-play attempt following a double-minor against Xaverian. However, it didn’t go as planned for Pope Francis, as the Hawks regained possession. Following a turnover, Sean Connolly countered with a short-handed rebounder to move them back ahead 2-1 through 22 minutes of action.
Despite another momentum shift, the Cardinals remained poised. Pope Francis neared the opposing net on a 2-on-2 breakaway following a turnover near center ice. Petkovich then located O’Leary near the crease on a cross pass to even things at 2-2 with 2:39 remaining until the second intermission.
From there, Pope Francis used its experience against Xaverian to help them come away victoriously.
“Throughout the game, we started filling in the blanks on what to expect since we faced (the Hawks) in a scrimmage earlier this season,” Iby said. “We came out soft but knew we could outplay them and win the game. We played against St. John’s Prep with speed and intensity. And if we wanted that, it was ours.”
“We were on and off throughout the game. But once we got through some bad penalties, nothing was stopping us.”