Andrew Leitch makes 53 saves, but Crusaders fall in D-IIIA hockey semifinal
WEST SPRINGFIELD -- Andrew Leitch knew that, for the St. Joseph's hockey team to have a chance to advance to the Western Mass. Division III-A final, he'd have to have the same kind of night in net that he did in the Crusaders' quarterfinal win.
He did that, stopping 53 South Hadley shots, but St. Joe came up a goal short in a 3-2 loss to the No. 2-seeded Tigers on Monday night at the Olympia Ice Center.
Leitch had stopped 52 shots in St. Joe's quarterfinal upset of Chicopee, and was magnificent for the No. 6 Crusaders (10-7-2). He was bombarded with shots in the second period -- 21, to be exact - but kept St. Joe in it until the final horn.
"I knew I had to be the same guy every game for these guys, do my job and stop all the pucks I possibly can," Leitch said. "Diving, twisting, turning. I know they'll back me up. I'll back them up."
St. Joe found itself down two goals in the game's final minutes when South Hadley's Jeff Beauregard was called for boarding with 2:16 left. The Crusaders called a timeout on the power play and gambled, pulling Leitch for a 6-on-4 advantage.
Nine seconds into the power play, it paid off. Dan Flynn knocked home a shot on a scramble in front of the net, and St. Joe was within a goal.
"Being down those two goals, we had to make a decision," St. Joe coach Tim Kelly said. "Coach [Dan] MacWhinnie made a great call to pull a little play there. We won the faceoff and got the little scrum in front."
The Crusaders would pull Leitch again in the final minute, but couldn't get the equalizer. Devin Hoagland made 21 saves for South Hadley, which plays in Thursday's final at 5:30 p.m.
"That kid's outstanding," said South Hadley coach John Houle of Andrew Leitch. "They were short two or three players, but they're a real solid team."
South Hadley struck first with a Joe Whalen goal just 3:01 in, but Mike Bloom answered for the Crusaders off assists from Eric Leitch and Andy Cella with 8:56 elapsed in the first.
Tom Crotty gave South Hadley the lead with 6:32 gone in the second period, a 15-minute stretch in which the Tigers gave St. Joe headaches with their persistence on both sides of the puck. Crotty would score again 6:16 into the third.
"They do work the weak side real well," Kelly said. "We were kind of losing our focus on that. That's where they were able to get some of those rushes and get the puck down low."
The loss ends a Western Mass. run in which Andrew Leitch made 105 saves in two games, and a career which saw him regularly considered the Hennessy League's best goalie.
"Just incredible, the way he works, and his abilities and skills in that net," Kelly said. "I just hope he's not too disappointed. He's had a great four years that some kids would love to have."
St. Joseph 1 0 1 -- 2
S. Hadley 1 1 1 -- 3
SH -- Joe Whalen (Jeff Beauregard, Nick Harris), 3:01
SJ -- Mike Bloom (Eric Leitch, Andy Cella), 8:56
SH -- Tom Crotty (Evan Sullivan), 6:32
SH -- Crotty (Sullivan, Beauregard), 6:16
SJ -- Dan Flynn (E. Leitch, Bloom), 12:53 (PP)
Saves: SJ -- Andrew Leitch 53. SH -- Devin Hoagland 21.
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