LOWELL — With just under a minute to play and Austin Prep leading by a goal, but bogged down in its own zone on the penalty kill, freshman Eric MacAdams corralled the puck for the Cougars and stared down an empty Reading net.
MacAdams let it fly, leaving the crowd at Tsongas Center holding its breath in the opening game of the Super 8 series.
The puck came to a stop squarely in the back of the Reading net and put the fourth-seeded Cougars (14-1-6) up, 2-0, with 42 seconds to play.
It proved to be the difference in the game after the fifth-seeded Rockets (16-2-5) netted their goal 26 seconds later.
“I saw that [MacAdams] had a great deal of time and that he got his head up and took a look,” said Austin Prep coach Louis Finocchiaro. “If there was an icing and we had another D-zone faceoff, I might have been not too happy with him, but . . . he saucered one and it went right in the middle of the net. I’m going to take the ‘W’ and be happy about it.”
The win gave the Cougars, who outshot Reading, 31-24, a 1-0 edge in the best-of-three series with the lone public school remaining in the Super 8 tournament. The teams, which are located less that 2 miles from each other in Reading, will meet in Game 2 on Wednesday at Stoneham Arena at 7:45 p.m.
In the first period, Reading took a holding penalty early on, and it looked as though it had dodged a bullet when Austin Prep’s Andrew Cross was called for tripping just seconds into the man-advantage. However, the Cougars responded on the next faceoff with a goal from freshman Jake McKenelley.
Austin Prep sophomore forward Bob Carpenter (two assists), son of former NHL star Bobby Carpenter, went flying toward the net on the left side and flipped a backhanded shot on Reading goaltender Evan Morelli (29 saves). The senior captain made the save, but the rebound went straight to McKenelley, who found the back of the net for the 12th time this season at 4:52.
After a scoreless second period and Austin Prep’s empty-netter late in the third, Reading senior forward Ryan Thomson spoiled Elijah Harris’s bid for a shutout. But that was all the scoring the Rockets could muster against Harris (23 saves).
“We only have two games left potentially,” said Reading coach Mark Doherty, whose veteran roster consists of 17 seniors, four juniors, and three sophomores. “They’ll be all right. They’ll be ready to play on Wednesday. It’s two good teams. Anything can happen.”