LOWELL –– Through the first 12 games of the season, Pope Franci sophomore goaltender Nick Ritchie did not start.
After switching off games with senior Vin Maggi throughout the stretch run of the season, Ritchie earned the starting job for the tournament. He hasn’t looked back.
On Sunday, Ritchie recorded a 26-save shutout, backstopping the fourth-seeded Cardinals to a 1-0 win over top-seeded St. John’s Prep, the defending champion, in a Division 1 semifinal at Tsongas Center in Lowell. The Cardinals (20-2-3) advance to the state final for the first time since being crowned co-champions of the 2020 Covid-shortened Super 8 tournament.
Pope Francis will face seventh-seeded Xaverian in the Division 1 championship after the Hawks defeated No. 14 Reading, 1-0, in overtime.
Final: No. 4 Pope Francis 1, No. 1 St. John’s Prep 0— Cam Kerry (@camkerry7) March 12, 2023
Nick Petkovich’s goal with 6:13 left holds as the winner. Nick Ritchie earns a 26-save shutout. The Cardinals (20-2-3) advance to the state championship, dethroning the defending champs. @GlobeSchools @popepuck @PFcardinals pic.twitter.com/dfnGhMNmN1
Ritchie tracked pucks well and presented aggressive angles to shooters, his confidence growing as the Eagles fired 14 shots on frame in the opening period.
“Once we got into the tournament, [Ritchie] has been spot on, playing great for us,” said Pope Francis coach Brian Foley. “We talk to the team all the time about at the end of the year how you need to be able to win a game one to nothing. For that to happen, you need a really good goalie.”
Sophomore Nick Petkovich recorded the winner, capitalizing on a turnover and firing a snapshot from the left circle that trickled past the goal line.
“Every single one of us, we’ve always wanted to go [to TD Garden],” said Petkovich. “It’s a dream come true and we’re not looking to lose.”
Senior Brian Cronin made 26 saves for the Eagles (20-3-1).
“We try to develop a certain culture and I’m proud to say that we did that,” said St. John’s Prep coach Kristian Hanson. “I love those kids in that locker room. They gave us everything they had, left it all out on the ice, and accomplished a ton.”
In a matchup between two of the premier programs in the state, the margin for error proved to be the mere inches that Petkovich’s shot crossed the line.
“Kids were playing with a lot of heart and determination, both sides,” said Foley. “It was a really good hockey game, one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Cam Kerry can be reached at email@example.com.