Sports

State final a big hurt for Franklin boys’ hockey, again

Members of the Franklin High boys’ hockey team ponder their loss Sunday in the state finals — for the third straight year.
Members of the Franklin High boys’ hockey team ponder their loss Sunday in the state finals — for the third straight year.Credit: Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

The hurting was visible everywhere.

It was clear looking onto the ice, from the TD Garden tunnel, after the Franklin High boys’ hockey team had lost again on Sunday, becoming just the third program since 1943 to reach the state finals three straight years only to lose all three times.

The boys from Wilmington, their hair dyed blond, skated in circles and threw their gloves in the air, hugging each other and smiling after the final horn. Coach Steve Scanlon wore a satisfied grin as he shook hands and hauled in another trophy.

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But even on his proudest day, with his back-to-back Division 2 state championships behind him and a green flower pinned to his signature black trench coat, Scanlon could feel the suffering coming from the other side.

“They did a good job hanging in there,” Wilmington’s coach said after a 4-0 win. “I know they must be hurting, coming these few times and not getting it. They’re a good program, though.”

The Franklin boys could hardly watch afterward. Some cried, fighting the tears away the best they could. This team was made of fighters. They weren’t supposed to be here yet again. Not this year. But they gritted out wins. And the seniors thought they had it this time.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like, really,” Scanlon said. “I know that their players were broken up, as you expect them to be. That senior class has been there three times now. You feel for them now, you really do. I wouldn’t want to be in that situation.”

Franklin coach Chris Spillane was determined not to be.

With this year’s squad light on experienced talent, the witty, strategic Spillane — a well-regarded player in his day — didn’t have the simple job of matching players with positions he would have liked this winter. This one was a challenge.

Gone were 11 seniors who combined to score 66 of the team’s 121 goals last year. The departed Adam Hall (17 goals in 2011-2012) and Nick Bertoni (25 goals) left little for Spillane to work with on the offensive end. Cam Curley was the only returning player who scored more than six goals last season.

Where Spillane likes to have fun, getting creative with finesse players attacking the net, he had to instead adjust to a group of athletes typically described as hard-working.

“Chris pours his heart into this,” said longtime assistant Bruce Bertoni, who has been with Spillane since he took over 15 years ago. “You can’t say more about him, the job he’s done.

“Other than taking home the big one.”

All season Spillane was cautiously optimistic that the Panthers would pull it together. He believed when his players didn’t. So when Franklin couldn’t get it going on the Garden ice Sunday, when Wilmington’s ferocious top line kept pushing them back on their heels, forcing them to chase the puck around for minutes at a time in their own zone, the Panthers hurt for Spillane.

They may have wanted it more for him than they did for themselves.

“I just feel bad because he coached us as best as he can,” said senior forward Mike Patjane. “He sends us on the ice and there’s nothing he can do about it besides coaching us his best. We couldn’t get it done.”

Spillane figured he was doing something wrong on game day. So he surprised his players Sunday, providing a private bus for the ride from Franklin to Boston instead of the yellow school buses they’ve taken for the last two trips.

“We tried to change something up,” Spillane said.

But that didn’t matter. The Garden is haunted for the Panthers. Spillane is 0-for-4 as a coach there, losing to Saugus in the 2002-2003 Division 2 state final as well.

“I’d like them to move it down to Bourne,’’ said Spillane, referring to the Gallo Arena there.

“I think we play a lot better at Bourne than we do here.”

“It’s a tough environment to put on a 17-, 18-year-old kid. You get awe-struck with all the people in the stands, the building itself. All our kids are Bruins fans, diehards. I love coming here. We just have to figure out how to win here.”

“I’m not a big fan of it,” said Curley, who has been with the Panthers all three times. “When the puck goes in the air you lose it in the stands with the black background.

“It’s hot. It’s really hot out there. The ice is nice but it’s fast. It takes getting used to. It’s tough to come in here and play your best game with no prior practice or anything.

“The boards are a lot bouncier. I noticed a couple times in the defensive zone the puck would wrap around, and a puck I would normally go get with ease, I sprinted for it because it was flying around there. It’s a tough adjustment.

“From a strictly hockey game standpoint, I’d take Gallo. I’d take Franklin. I’d take any other place.”

The bitterness, the hurting, and the unquenchable thirst — everything was palpable from the Franklin side.

But Spillane’s legacy should be more than that, regardless of how the Panthers handle their move to Division 1 next season.

Under Spillane, Franklin joined an elite club with eight other schools in Massachusetts that have made it to a state final three years in a row. Forget about outcome. The Panthers made it that far.

The only other schools to lose three in a row are Pittsfield, which couldn’t get it done in Division 2 from 1973-74 to 1975-76, and Boston College High, which lost three straight Super 8 finals to Catholic Memorial from 1998-2001, won it in 2001-2002, then lost the next two, again to CM. But then-Eagles coach Joe McCabe isn’t remembered for the losses.

He’s remembered for having a dynasty.

Spillane might get another chance, even if it does take time to adjust to the better competition. The pain evident on Sunday will drift away. And Franklin will again be synonymous with hard-working winners.

Pain won’t taint a legacy.

The spring sports season started Monday, Spillane said. “So our boys will be breaking out their lacrosse sticks and baseball gloves to play.

“They need to put their bags away. It’s a long season. They need to put them away.”

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