BANGOR — The last time the Old Town High School Coyotes played the John Bapst Crusaders, the Coyotes cruised to a 7-2 victory.
That was on Dec. 28.
The vastly improved Crusaders proved to be a much tougher opponent this time around as the Coyotes needed an empty-net goal from Nick Nadeau with 32 seconds remaining to sew up a hard-fought 3-1 triumph at Sawyer Arena.
Old Town, playing its first game in 10 days, won its fifth straight and improved to 7-2. John Bapst of Bangor had its two-game winning streak snapped and fell to 4-9.
The entertaining contest featured a goaltending duel between Old Town freshman Nathan Colannino and John Bapst sophomore Jaron Leonard.
Leonard was the busier of the two, turning aside 33 of 35 shots including all 17 he faced in the third period before he was lifted in favor of the extra attacker, enabling Nadeau to deposit the puck into the empty net off a pass from Zach Madden.
Colannino made 19 saves including a win-preserving stop off John Bapst’s Joe Pate, who raced down the left wing and was able to cut around a Coyote defenseman before firing a wrist shot from the base of the left circle with a minute left in regulation.
“I held the short side and got it with my blocker,” said Colannino.
Ryan Dubay staked Old Town to a 1-0 lead with 45 seconds left in the first period.
Trevor Francis’ power-play goal 3:31 into the second period turned out to be the game-winner.
Alex Beals scored for John Bapst 4:10 later but Colannino made several gems later in the period to preserve the one-goal lead.
His mates took charge of the game in the third period to the tune of an 18-3 shots on goal advantage but Leonard kept his team within one until the empty-netter with several superb saves.
The Crusaders did an exceptional job back-checking and getting their sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes.
They also did an effective job against the high-powered line of Cody Cross between Francis and David Wilcox.
That line cycled the puck impressively in the John Bapst zone but the Crusaders protected the net front well and, when shots did get through, Leonard made the saves.
“They played us real well tonight,” said Old Town coach Brett Hale. “They really clogged things up. They played real good defense on us. They boxed it in real tight and made us shoot from the outside.”
“We’ve been working real hard on that. It was something we didn’t do well at the beginning of the season,” said John Bapst coach Greg Stone.
“The kids have been coming along. They should be proud of themselves. They’ve been working hard and doing what they need to be doing.”
Stone also said, “We’ve struggled to score goals all season. We couldn’t get a bounce when we needed a bounce tonight.”
Dubay opened the scoring off the rebound of a Nadeau wrist shot from the blue line.
“It popped out of my glove,” said Leonard.
Dubay swept it into the vacant net.
Cross set up Francis’ power-play goal when he chased down a Francis rebound behind the net and slid it back out to him.
“I shot it into the open net,” said Francis while icing a shoulder injury he sustained in the final minute.
He put it past the glove of the helpless Leonard.
John Bapst got one back when Beals put on a burst of speed down the left wing and had his centering pass deflect into the short-side corner off the skate of a Coyote defenseman.
Old Town had a great chance to clinch it with just under a minute remaining in the third period but Leonard made a breakaway save off David Wilcox.
“(Leonard) played a very good game. I thought we were going to seal it with the breakaway but he made a great save,” said Colannino. “They’ve improved a lot.”
Leonard credited his defensemen for doing an outstanding job clearing the front of the net for him.