Pope Francis is a perennial contender for the MIAA’s Super 8 tourney. This season is no different for the state’s lone Division 1 program west of Worcester.
So yes, Tuesday night’s matchup against the visiting Cardinals was a measuring stick for coach Will Ortiz and his Framingham squad at Loring Arena.
And though the Flyers hung in from start to finish in a 3-2 loss, Ortiz was not satisfied.
“I don’t want to just have these games on my schedule and hope that we’re just in the game,” said Ortiz, a former Framingham stalwart now in his third season as head coach.
“My expectation is to win. I hope these kids’ expectations are the same and they align with us as coaches.”
Framingham was outshot, 22-19, but proved it belonged on the same sheet of ice as last year’s Super 8 finalist. It was a drastic improvement from the team’s first loss of the season, a 6-0 blanking at St. John’s Prep on Dec. 22.
Those remain the lone setbacks of the season for the Flyers, now 6-2-1. Framingham has already matched its win total from a season ago, a trying campaign in which Ortiz’s team lost quite a bit.
“It [stinks] to lose,” he said.
After capturing the Division 1 South title and playing at the TD Garden, losing to St. Mary’s of Lynn, in the 2017 final in Ortiz’s first year as head coach at Framingham, the Flyers graduated nearly 60 goals worth of production. The team was bound to backslide a bit, but not to the point it did: Framingham finished the regular season5-10-7 in 2017-18, qualifying for the postseason by virtue of winning the Bay State Conference’s Carey Division title. The Flyers won a preliminary round game over similarly-under .500 Brockton before bowing out in their next contest.
With the bulk of last year’s team back, and a few players still remaining from the state runners-up the year prior, Framingham has a perfect blend of seasoned vets and fresh faces that make it seem the team’s hot start is built to last.
“Everyone’s buying in this year,” senior captain Mike Tersoni said. “Really all the way from the kids on our top line to the kids who practice with us, the kids who come around the team and help us out, everyone’s buying in and having a good time.”
A year ago, Ortiz said he struggled with finding ways to keep it exciting for his players coming to the rink.
“It put me through a great test. Not everything is going to be shiny and bright,” Ortiz said.
“It’s finding ways to get these kids to want to be there. Making sure these kids want to be there and making sure they’re continually engaged and that we’re still here for each other. That’s one of the biggest keys, for me, finding different ways to keep it interesting, to keep it fun, keep the kids engaged on a daily basis.”
The Flyers were just 1-5 in one-goal games last year, adding to their collective frustration. They’re already 2-1 this season, with two more wins coming down to the final minute before adding empty net goals.
“Everyone’s got a different attitude,” Tersoni said. “We all want to win, we all want to go all the way.”
Tersoni paces the Flyers with nine points in as many games – including seven goals. He’s been assisted by linemate Will Trischitta , a junior who’s recorded 4-4—8 totals thus far, and sophomore Hunter Balducci , who sits at 2-4—6.
Jake Handy has started the last five games in goal for Framingham, helping the team to a 3-1-1 mark. The junior didn’t play much last season, and admitted that it took a bit for his mental game to catch up to his physical performance.
“I was coming in fresh and my teammates really helped pick me up and showed me that it doesn’t all rest on me, that they’re supposed to help, too,” said Handy, noting that the Flyers’ 4-2 win over Braintree last Saturday was the first time he felt calm entering a start.
It helped, of course, he was coming off of his first career shutout, a 2-0 win over Wellesley.
“It really helped my confidence, which really pushed me into [Braintree] with a strong head and a strong mind,” Handy said. “That just keeps carrying on.”
When Ortiz spoke of having “these games” on his schedule —Pope Francis and St. John’s Prep — he was certainly referring to three more nonleague tests the Flyers still have against BC High, Hingham and Xaverian.
All of the games are at home, all against teams with similar aspirations to Framingham: to be playing their very best hockey in March.
“We know what we have in our locker room,” Ortiz said. “We think that we have a special group here and I hope that the kids finally get that assertion: we are part of that upper echelon group. We can play with the best.”
■ Winchester (7-1) stretched its winning streak to six games following wins over Reading (4-0) and Belmont (3-1) to take sole possession of first place in a highly-competitive Middlesex League Liberty Division. Sophomore netminder Rob DiVincenzo has been excellent , allowing just four goals over his past five games.
“Our goaltending was absolutely pristine,” said Winchester coach Bill Burns after the shutout win of Reading.
“Rob stood in there every step of the way. He took all kinds of shots from a very good Reading team. To come in here to [Burbank Ice Arena] and to hand them a loss is a very big deal for us. It gives us two points and puts us in first place. We’re very happy about that.”
■ The Catholic Memorial attack is firing on all cylinders. Following a 4-2 win over Malden Catholic on Wednesday night, the Knights are averaging 4.6 goals per game over their last five contests. A tough stretch looms, as the Knights will be tested by BC High, St. John’s Prep and Reading in three games over the course of five days this week . . . After Austin Prep handed Archbishop Williams its first loss of the season on Wednesday night, there are currently six undefeated teams left in Massachusetts: Austin Prep (7-0-1), Melrose (8-0-1), Canton (7-0-0), Medfield (5-0-1), Bishop Stang (8-0-1), and Hanover (6-0-1).