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Central nears Super 8 bid

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Tuesday, February, 03 By David Willis
Staff writer

NORTH ANDOVER — Central Catholic couldn’t help thinking Super 8 after yesterday game.

“This was a huge win for us,” said Raiders forward Conor MacPhee. “Arlington Catholic is a great team, and it’s a big deal to beat a good team for the Super 8 rankings. Hopefully this will help us climb in the standings.”

They had good reason to be encouraged.

MacPhee’s two goals led Central Catholic, the No. 6 team in Eastern Mass., to a 3-1 victory over Arlington Catholic, the No. 4 team in Eastern Mass., yesterday at Merrimack College.

“(The Super 8) is on our minds,” said Raiders sophomore Nick Leonard. “We are getting pretty excited.”

With the victory and last week’s tie with Catholic Memorial (No. 2 in Eastern Mass), Central Catholic (11-0-5) appears to control its own destiny to become the second team in area history to qualify for the elite tourney. They also made it two years ago.

The Raiders have six games remaining on their schedule, the toughest being their rematch with Andover Feb. 14. The Golden Warriors (9-3-1) are No. 17 in Eastern Mass. They also host St. John’s Prep Feb. 18.

“This win is great,” said Central coach Mike Jankowski. “This is big for building momentum and confidence. This was as good as any game that I have seen since I started coaching here.”

After the Raiders seemed to dictate the pace of play early, it was Arlington Catholic that grabbed the lead with 2:48 left in the second period on a goal by John Humphrey.

But Central struck right back. Just 1:16 after the goal, MacPhee took a pass and blasted a shot between the goalie’s pads to make the score 1-1 after two periods.

“It was a great goal,” said Jankowski. “To answer right away was huge. We have done that a few times this year. You don’t want to get too far away from the momentum.”

A week after scoring the Raiders’ only goal against CM, Nick Leonard delivered the go-ahead tally yesterday. In the closing seconds of a power play, Steve Balsamo fired a shot that was saved, but Leonard was in perfect position for a rebound and flipped it in, 5:02 into the third. Mike Holland also recorded an assist.

Following back-and-fourth play, MacPhee clinched the victory with his second goal of the day with 34 seconds left in the game. It was the team-high 13th goal of the season for the sophomore, who did not have a goal last season. Cam Fisichelli had an assist.

“It was great,” said MacPhee. “To make (the lead) two goals with 30 seconds left really sealed the deal. It was a good feeling, and good for my teammates.”

Senior netminder Cam Keller was once again stellar in net, making 26 saves and allowing just the one goal. At the end of the first, he had to stop a pair of point-blank blasts to keep the game scoreless. He also received some help from defenseman Josh Gallagher, who cleared the puck away from an open net.

Keller needed to be on his game, as Arlington goalie Cam Kelley (26 saves) turned in a number of highlight-reel stops.

“Both teams had chances, and we were able to take advantage a few more times,” said Jankowski. “After the tie with CM, we started looking ahead and it hurt us with the tie against Billerica. But we played to our strengths today. It was exciting.”

Game Statistics:

Goals:  CC — Conor MacPhee 2, Nick Leonard; AC — John Humphrey

Assists:  CC — Leonard, Mike Holland, Steve Balsamo, Cam Fisichelli

Saves:  CC — Cam Keller 26; AC — Cam Kelley 26

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