Few athletes at any level have the ability to infuse a crowd with anticipation by expertly executing their craft. St. John’s Prep’s Harvard-bound senior captain Colin Blackwell is one of those athletes.
Blackwell’s exquisite five-point performance helped the No. 2 Eagles (18-5-1) soar past Weymouth, 5-1, in Wednesday night’s Division 1A Tournament semifinal at Merrimack College’s Lawler Arena. St. John’s will meet Catholic Conference nemesis and top-seeded Malden Catholic (20-2-2), a 4-2 winner against B.C. High Wednesday night, for the 1A crown Sunday night at TD Garden (6 p.m.).
On several occasions, Blackwell’s command performance had St. John’s fans rising from their seats for a better view of what might happen next. The St. John’s student body even used his name as a verb when they chanted “You’ve been Blackwell-ed!” at their Weymouth counterparts.
None of which came as any surprise to Prep coach Kris Hanson, who saw his school single-season scoring record of 62 points surpassed by Blackwell, who now has 65 and was named Catholic Conference co-MVP with Malden Catholic’s Mike Vecchione by league coaches earlier in the day.
“The kids were joking after the game, saying, ‘Colin had three goals, give him the game puck.’ That’s routine for Colin – we expect this from him. I’ve been saying all year I felt he was the best player in the state. In fact, he may be the best high school player I’ve ever seen. He carried us,” said Hanson.
Blackwell had plenty of help from his mates. Freshman wing Shane Eiserman scored twice, reaching the 50-point plateau in his rookie campaign. Junior goalie Dave Letarte handled all but one shot by Weymouth, which actually had a 22-19 edge.
Junior wing Sam Kurker delivered a gritty, two-way performance and the Eagles’ all-senior third line of Ryan Palmer, Devin Murray and Matt MacDonald blanketed Weymouth's high-scoring tandem of Tyler Piacentini and Riley Flanagan.
On two occasions, St. John’s defensemen kicked out rebound attempts by Weymouth forwards that looked to be certain goals. Finally, the Prep killed five Weymouth power plays and is now a perfect 12-for-12 in four tournament games.
“There was a puck that went behind Dave (Letarte) when it was 1-0. I didn’t see what happened and I thought it was in but one of our defensemen got it. We got some bounces tonight. Weymouth had a lot of dangerous opportunities, but really had no luck,” Hanson said.
“We killed penalties, blocked shots and got dirty. A couple of times our defensemen slid down and blocked shots. You do everything you can at this point,” said Blackwell.
St. John’s scored the only goal of the first period at 4:42 when Blackwell’s pass sent Eiserman up the left wing with a full head of steam. He undressed a Weymouth defenseman with an inside-out move, angled to the net and beat Weymouth Brian Brady (14 saves) between the wickets along the ice.
Weymouth began the second period with a brief carryover power play of 16 seconds, but Blackwell’s splendid solo shorthanded effort gave the Prep a 2-0 lead at 15 seconds. Flying up the right side, he blew past a Weymouth defenseman, cut left, pulled the puck to his backhand and beat Brady to the far side.
Highlight reel goal No. 2 came at 6:06 of the period when Blackwell picked up a loose puck along the right wall, gathered speed by circling through neutral ice and left a gauntlet of Weymouth skaters in his wake before roofing a backhander over Brady’s blocker.
The lead grew to 4-0 with 51.4 seconds left in the period. Kurker worked the puck free deep in the attacking zone. Blackwell gathered it in along the left rear wall and threaded a precise pass to Eiserman for an easy power play tap into the right corner.
Weymouth started the third period with a good jump and got on the board at 16 seconds on Flanagan's goal. However, any momentum the Wildcats (18-6-2) had disappeared with 9:54 to play when Jon Farrow's diagonal wing-to-wing pass sent Blackwell in clean for a slick forehand finish, accounting for the 5-1 final.
Now it’s on to the TD Garden where the Prep will seek its third overall championship and first since 1985.
“It’s what we all wanted, an opportunity to play in the Garden. It’s what everyone dreams about when they start playing hockey as a kid. Now we have to go in and give it our best shot,” said Hanson.