MANCHESTER - Manchester Central junior Devon Sprague scored a natural hat trick to lead the fourth-ranked Little Green to a 6-2 win over No. 5 Trinity of Manchester in NHIAA Division I boys' hockey quarterfinal action at JFK Coliseum Saturday night.
Central (12-7-0) moves on to the semifinals on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at JFK against the winner of Saturday's late game between No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover and No. 8 Nashua North. Trinity ends the season at 10-9-0.
Trinity, a 3-2 winner over Central in the regular-season meeting, scored the first goal of the game but could not match Central's offensive punch from that point on.
"The whole team came to play," said Central head coach Brian Stone. "We could tighten up a little on our defensive coverage in our own zone, but other than that, we played a full game. All facets of the game were on."
The first 2½ minutes of the second period were key for Central. Already ahead 2-1, the Little Green scored twice in a 27-second span to break the game open.
Sprague notched his second goal of the game (and in a row) at 1:55 of the second. Cody Lappas' shot from the left side hit traffic in front of the net. Pioneers senior goalie Neil McCarthy went to the ice to stop the shot and was stuck when the puck deflected to Sprague all alone on the right side for a wide open put-back.
Sprague locked up the hat trick just 27 seconds later with a power-play goal. Directly off the faceoff after the whistle for the penalty, Noah Duplessis' shot from the left boards missed the net wide left and came out on the right side where Sprague was once again Johnny-on-the-spot for the quick shot into the open cage.
With the score 4-1 after that goal, McCarthy's night was over and freshman Curtis Wirbal came on to finish the game in the Trinity net.
"I wasn't comfortable because if they bang one home its 4-2 and they're back in," Stone said. "They've got a quick offense and they can put some in so I wasn't comfortable. I said we needed number five."
Number five came at 3:11 of the third period on a Ross Lougee goal fired top shelf from the left circle. Duplessis made it 6-1 at 5:25, backhanding a shot off Wirbal's trapper and into the net from deep on the right side.
The Little Green kept Trinity at bay from there as senior goalie Ian Beliveau made 12 saves in the period and 33 in the game. Stone let his other senior goalie, Brendan O'Neil, play the final 2:52 of the game.
Trinity got one goal back on O'Neil at 13:14 on the power play. O'Neil made a strong save on a Dan McGrath shot, but Tyler Tambouris was camped on the right side for the rebound goal to account for the 6-2 final.
Trinity opened the scoring at 1:51 of the first period. Sophomore Drew Merrick blocked a shot from Central captain Tim Tetrault at the blue line and was off to the races the other way. Merrick snapped a wrist shot past Beliveau's catching glove for the 1-0 lead.
Central tied the game at 11:50 on a Nathan Potvin goal. The Little Green were buzzing in the Pioneers end and Potvin cashed in when the puck came out from behind the net to him deep on the right side for a quick low shot past McCarthy inside the post.
The Little Green took a 2-1 lead at 12:55 of the first. Sprague came off the bench to take a Jon Mathieu feed and raced into the Trinity zone, zipping a wrist shot from above the right circle to beat McCarthy high stick-side.