April 30, 2011

From NEHJ: Fitchburg's Pescosolido goes out a champ

Billy Pescosolido (Framingham, Mass.) of Fitchburg State (photo: Richard Orr Photography)

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

One day after St. Norbert won the Division 3 title in Minneapolis in front of 1,741 fans, Fitchburg State’s Billy Pescosolido was playing in a men’s league game at Cushing Academy in front of “probably three girlfriends, a couple wives and their kids.”

But Pescosolido and his Fitchburg State teammates joined the Green Knights as one of the select few teams that ended their season with a win and capable of calling themselves champions.

“It’s a bummer for me,” said Pescosolido, a senior who graduates without ever playing in the NCAA tournament. “I would have liked to have had that experience as a senior. I think we could have made some noise. The positive, I guess, would be that there aren’t many teams that can say they ended the year with a win.”

In just its second year of existence, the MASCAC had to play two full years before receiving an automatic qualifying spot to the NCAA tournament, which arrives next season. The Falcons, seeded fourth in the MASCAC tournament, lost any reasonable chance at an at-large big with a four-game losing streak during the regular season.

Still, that took very little away from the championship luster.

At the forefront of the championship run was Pescosolido, a stay-at-home defenseman who grew up in Framingham, Mass., played in the Framingham Jets program, attended Framingham High School and played junior hockey with the Walpole Express.

The only MASCAC player among the semifinalists for the Concannon Award, Pescosolido said he considers it an honor simply to be in the running. A 6-foot, 185-pound defenseman whose priorities lie on the defensive end, said he focused far more on his nightly plus/minus numbers and Fitchburg State’s results.

That mindset typically gets a player valued by teammates far more than award committees, and success is measured far more in wins and losses than points and accolades.

“To me, plus/minus is the most important number,” Pescosolido said. “It’s what I’ve always believed in and always cared about. To me, that’s the best judge of how you’re playing.”

“He’s very workmanlike,” Fitchburg State coach Dean Fuller said. “Some kids don’t give you 100 percent all the time. He made other players work harder. He took it seriously.”

Just how serious became evident immediately after the team was picked this season.

After surprising the MASCAC by winning the regular-season title last year, Fitchburg State fell, 2-1,against Salem State in overtime of the championship game, losing on its home ice.

Pescosolido and fellow captain Chris Riggs returned this year with T-shirts reading “Unfinished Business” that the team wore during lifting sessions and during its pregame dynamic workout.

“That was our slogan this year,” Pescosolido said. “That’s all we cared about was getting back there and getting a championship.”

Fittingly, after its hopes were dashed in sudden-death last year, Fitchburg State put a little extra into its championship run.

By virtue of earning the No. 4 seed, Fitchburg State had to play a quarterfinal game while the top seeds received byes. The Falcons beat Worcester State, 3-0, then took out top-seeded UMass-Dartmouth in double overtime before coming back to play Salem, a stretch of five games in three days, two on the road.

“Before that game, he came up to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, Coach, the adrenaline level is running so high, no one is going to be tired,’” Fuller said.

That never changed, even in overtime in the championship game.

Salem State’s Mike Genovese, who ended Fitchburg State’s season a year ago, barely missed doing it again, shooting wide on a 2-on-1 break — Pescosolido was the lone defenseman back — and less than a minute later, Fitchburg State’s Trevor Lawler scored the sudden-death goal that won the MASCAC and ended the seasons of both teams.

The Falcons took the championship game, 6-5, delivering the first tournament win for Fitchburg State in more than a decade.

While the Falcons would have relished an NCAA tournament appearance, and they’ll go down as the last MASCAC tournament champion that won’t appear in the tournament, Fitchburg State never had to end its season with a loss and will never lose the title it worked so hard to earn.

“Hockey has been my whole life,” said Pescosolido, who will graduate Fitchburg State with a business degree. “My goal in life was to play college hockey. That was my goal. I’d love to coach someday. All I wanted was to play college hockey and win a championship.”

Chris Carlson can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com