It was a tossup between who stood out more at the TD Garden Sunday, the Kelly-green clad fans of Wilmington or the bleach-blond players skating for their adulation.
Ultimately, they blended together nicely to produce a second consecutive Division 2 state championship for the Wildcats, who defeated Franklin, 4-0, in a rematch of last year’s final.
“This year it’s more of a sense of an accomplishment,” said Wilmington coach Steve Scanlon. “It’s tough to do it once, never mind going back and doing it a second time.”
Unlike last year’s 3-2 victory, the Wildcats (21-3-2) needed only one goal to hold up and that came late in the first period when Dylan DiNatale (two assists) sprinted up the left wing drawing two defenders as he slid the puck onto the stick of Cody McGowan, who snapped it past Devon Maloof for a 1-0 lead before intermission.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” said McGowan of the win. “It’s pretty special [to score the winner].”
Wilmington came out on the attack, launching 10 first-period shots on Maloof (24 saves).
It took the Panthers (17-8-2) nearly seven minutes to get their first shot on goal, a slap shot from the point by Aiden Isberg, who followed up on the rebound but was victimized by the lightning-quick glove of Wilmington’s Drew Foley (15 saves).
“It was a big one,” Franklin coach Chris Spillane said of the save. “We’re a much better team when we score goals early and a team like [Wilmington], you know they’re going to get their chances, they’re going to score their goals.”
Moments later, Troy Donahue rushed up the left wing and across the slot, but Foley once again stood up to the challenge, going to his left to make a pad save that kept the game scoreless.
“He’s really been a rock for us the whole year,” Scanlon said of Foley, who recorded his second shutout of the tournament. “He’s a tremendous goalie.”
Early in the second period, Wilmington’s Jake Rogers got behind the defense, collecting a pass at the blue line that sent him alone. He wristed a shot past Maloof, but the puck found the unfriendly iron of the left post.
With four minutes remaining in the period, Franklin appeared to have knotted the game on a similar play.
Mike Patjane collected a pass behind the Wildcats’ defense, skated in, and put the puck in the net, but an offside whistle that went unheard made it all for naught.
Thanks to staunch defense by the Wildcats, fortified by relentless backchecking of the core forwards, the Panthers were unable to generate any more viable offense, stalling with only three shots in the final period.
Meanwhile, Wilmington found its legs and kicked the door wide open with a three-goal third period that started when Cam Owens fired a cross-ice pass to Brendan McDonough (goal, assist), who slammed it home from the right doorstep on the power play.
“Cam fed me some nice sauce that landed right on my stick,” said McDonough. “It was a point-blank shot. It feels good.”
Rogers followed with a goal midway through the period and forward Luke Foley, who had a standout game defensively, scored the final goal with 1:57 remaining.
For Wilmington, it was the program’s second state title, while Franklin felt the sting of another Garden loss the past three seasons.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Spillane. “We’re a blue-collar team, hard-working and we just ran into a team that was very strong offensively. We met our match tonight.”