March 2, 2014

Harris backstops Austin Prep to win over Central Catholic

By Joshua Kummins

Elijah Harris backstopped the Cougars to victory in their Super 8 series opener against the Raiders at TD Garden Sunday. (Photo by Joshua Kummins/New England Hockey Journal)

BOSTON -- For a goaltender, good offense leads to confident play. Austin Prep junior Elijah Harris (Haverhill, Mass.) certainly had that working in his favor Sunday at TD Garden.

Despite allowing an extra-attacker goal to make things interesting with 1:01 remaining in the opener of a best-of-three Super 8 series, the Haverhill, Mass., native was stellar, making 32 saves in a 2-1 victory over Central Catholic.

"I thought he was sensational in the second and third," Austin Prep head coach Louis Finocchiaro said. "He made some great (saves on) one-timers, square on some passes they ran across our net front."

The Cougars' top unit got the scoring started just 35 seconds into the first. Senior defenseman Andrew Cross made a perfect pass to senior Bobo Carpenter for a wrist shot in the slot.

Carpenter, a Boston University commit and Austin Prep's leading scorer by a wide margin, made a great defensive play that directly led to the Cougars' second goal at 2:51. After the puck came loose in the middle of the offensive zone, sophomore Jake McKenelley scored his sixth goal of the season on a beautiful turnaround wrist shot.

"We just wanted to come out as hard and fast as we could," Carpenter said of the opening goal. "We knew we had to get the first jump, so we could build off of it. My linemates kept going hard and it was just a nice, lucky bounce."

Unfazed by eight quality shots on goal in the first period, Harris was excellent and kept the Raiders off the board.

Just before the midway point of the second, Harris and the Cougars received a stroke of great luck from the hockey gods to keep their shutout intact. An errant puck in the Raider offensive zone found its way by Harris, but senior defenseman Brendan Leach swept it away to the corner.

Harris stepped up big once again in the final four minutes as Central junior Christian Thompson used a burst of speed to get up ice and take a cross-ice pass. With an open cage in front of him, Harris quickly recovered from his weak side for a massive save to keep the game 2-0.

"There's a lot of action in front," Harris said. "I was just trying to be ready and play with the D. They were playing really well in front of me. ... I just try to keep my mind clear because I know more shots are coming."

The Raiders took advantage of their final of five power plays in the game, scoring with 61 seconds to play as speedy junior Christian Thompson drove to the net and whacked a rebound home. 

"You've got to get shots up," Thompson said of the offensive strategy against Harris. "Dirty goals, that's all it is. ... I saw the puck just squirt up and I kind of just whacked it in."

Entering the day, the teams had never met in postseason play. Austin Prep won the second of two regular-season meetings between the teams, 3-2, on Feb. 3 in Salem, N.H.

Twitter: @JoshuaKummins