LOWELL - It's safe to say Reading was underrated by the Super 8 selection committee.
The fifth-seeded Rockets, who posted the best record in Eastern Mass. during the regular season, cruised to a 5-2 victory over top-seeded Catholic Memorial last night at Tsongas Arena, dominating throughout to hand the Knights their first loss of the season against a Massachusetts team.
"I said this at the committee meeting," said Catholic Memorial coach Bill Hanson. "I thought Reading should have been the No. 1 seed."
Reading senior Pat Kiley gave the top-ranked Knights fits, scoring once and adding three assists. The Rockets went 0-3 in last year's Super 8, losing by a combined score of 15-5. They now stand 2-0.
"I think that's what got us going for the Super 8, after going 0-3 last year," Kiley said. "We knew we had a lot to prove, and we weren't going to get there by just showing up."
Pat Greene put the Knights ahead 1:23 into the game on CM's first shot. The senior forward took a loose puck along the right boards, brought it toward the middle of the ice, then flicked a backhander over Jeff Wyer's left shoulder.
But the Rockets (22-1) were quick to respond. Fifty-five seconds later, Garrett Collins found Kiley alone on the right side of CM's blue line with a long, cross-ice pass. The senior forward skated uncontested before firing a shot between goalkeeper Tom Conlin's pads to even the score.
After the teams traded scoring opportunities, Reading took the lead when Quinlan Junta fired a weak shot from the right of the net that found its way between Conlin's pads. The junior goalie looked toward the ceiling in disbelief after the Rockets took a 2-1 lead.
Reading increased its lead to 3-1 early in the second period. Collins ripped a one-timer from just inside the blue line on the Rockets' first power play, and the puck whizzed by Conlin's left shoulder and into the top corner of the net.
"He can shoot it," said Reading coach Peter Doherty. "If he gets a shot off, it's got a chance of going in."
The Knights (15-2-3) cut into the deficit a little more than a minute later when Mike Collins beat Wyer. But it was the last puck to get by the junior, who finished with 34 saves.
With just under 20 seconds left in the period, Kiley got free for a breakaway. Conlin poked away the first attempt, but Rob Toczylowski was there to stuff the puck home, giving the Rockets a 4-2 advantage going into the final period.
The Rockets withstood a barrage of shots in the third until, with just 2:22 left, Mike Lozzi knocked in a rebound of a Kiley shot. The partisan Reading crowd roared as the puck hit the back of the net, solidifying the victory.
Reading next plays Waltham, while Catholic Memorial faces BC High. Both games are at Tsongas Sunday.
"They're just a better hockey team than us right now," Hanson said.
Perhaps now the committee agrees.