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Top-ranked Lancers seal title in overtime

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By Jake Seiner
Globe Correspondent / March 21, 2011

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Malden Catholic has been waiting 20 years to win a Super 8 championship, with anticipation growing deeper after the Lancers lost to Reading in the 2008 title game.

So, a few extra minutes of hockey certainly wasn’t going to damper the Lancers’ celebration last night.

Malden Catholic had plenty to rejoice over after junior Brendan Collier’s overtime goal pushed it to a 4-3 win over Catholic Conference rival St. John’s Prep for the program’s first Super 8 championship and the first hockey title of any kind since 1974.

“I heard we had 100, more than 100 alum flying in just to watch us,’’ Collier said. “It’s not just us. It’s not for the team. It’s for the school. We had kids from last year coming in the locker room crying, that’s how happy they are. It’s just for everybody.’’

It was the first overtime finish in a Super 8 finale since Catholic Memorial knocked off BC High, 1-0, in 2001.

Collier netted the goal — his 30th of the season — with a tremendous individual effort. The Boston University-commit took control of the puck in the high slot, cut right around a defender, and lifted a no-look, backhander over David Letarte’s right shoulder.

“I started going left and saw there was more room right, so I made a quick little forehand-backhand move,’’ Collier said. “Got a little step on their defenseman and threw a backhand on net, and it just happened to go in.’’

The goal capped a comeback from a 3-1 second-period deficit. As has been the case for nearly every game this season, Malden Catholic (21-2-2) came out of the gates flat. The Eagles (18-6-1) outshot the Lancers, 8-7, in the first period, and shut down MC in the neutral zone with an uncharacteristically conservative approach.

“I didn’t think we played our best game in the first period,’’ MC sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald said. “It didn’t take a lot to shut us down, but they did a great job doing it.’’

“Sometimes I think we go in there, and we just think we’re going to win,’’ Malden Catholic coach Chris Serino said. “They always believe they’re going to win, until something happens to show them, ‘Uh-oh, we better get this thing going.’ We’re at our best when we’re playing with a sense of urgency.’’

The teams went scoreless into the second, but after St. John’s Matt MacDonald and MC’s Tyler Sifferlen exchanged goals early, the Eagles charged back with goals from Colin Blackwell and John Farrow to take a 3-1 lead.

It took the Lancers just over a minute to fire back. Senior Mike Vecchione, per usual, catalyzed the charge, zipping a pass from the corner to Fitzgerald’s waiting stick atop the crease with 2:32 to play in the second. Fitzgerald, with a defender draped over each shoulder, tipped it in to cut the deficit to one.

Vecchione knotted the score with 6.6 seconds left in the second, lifting a puck between Letarte and the near post while being dragged down by a defender.

“Everything changed for us when we were down, 3-1,’’ Serino said. “The emotions were really high then. It’s like, ‘We’re not going to lose.’ We started winning battles after that. The goal by Vecchione, that was a great individual effort.’’

The game’s pace slowed again through much of the third, but picked up late after back-to-back MC penalties gave St. John’s late momentum.

The Lancers managed to kill the chances, however, and even put some pressure on Letarte.

“In a way, I was a little bit nervous about that, because I know how strong they can be on the penalty kill and can generate offense off their penalty kill,’’ St. John’s coach Kristian Hanson said.

The teams returned to their conservative ways early in the overtime, but St. John’s could only contain Collier and the Lancers for so long.

“Yeah, I told him, ‘I want you to go in, go to the backhand, and roof it in the upper corner,’ ’’ Serino said jokingly. “Listen, great players make great coaches. It was a great individual effort.’’