BOURNE, Mass. –- In this week’s practices, Natick hockey head coach Karl Infanger challenged his players to do everything in their power to commit to playing team defense. Facing a familiar opponent in Thursday night’s Division 1 South sectional semifinal against Bay State League rival Norwood, the Red & Blue’s bench boss didn’t want the Mustangs’ shifty forwards being their downfall.
“Our game plan tonight was pretty similar to Needham [in quarterfinals], which was to take away their time and space, be physical, take away their passing lanes,” Infanger said.
He paused for second and added, “And, if you’re caught hanging, you’ve got to block a shot, you’ve got to pay the price.”
According to plan, Natick lassoed the Mustangs into playing a grind-it-out kind of a game, instead of an up-and-down pace.
Freshman forward Trevor Kaplan scored the biggest goal of his young career – his second to be exact -- and senior netminder Derek Kwok made 24 saves to give Natick a 1-0 shutout victory.
The Red & Blue advance to face another Bay State rival, Milton, in Sunday’s South sectional title game, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Gallo.
“We knew we were right there with them,” Infanger said of the team’s first meet on Jan. 14, a 2-2 tie. “But today’s game was all about special teams. We really focused on our penalty kill all week. We know their PP is dangerous.”
Natick (11-8-4) killed three Mustang power plays while cashing in on one of their two man-advantages. Kaplan followed a rebound off an Andrew Newis shot at 3:58 of the second period.
From there, Kwok took over, making 19 of his 24 saves during the second and third periods.
“My defense has played well,” the senior netminder and captain said. “In the playoffs they’ve really stepped it up. The shots I wasn’t able to see, they got blocked before they got to me.”
END OF THE ROAD
It was inevitable that one team’s emotional story would come to an end Thursday night.
While Natick has dedicated their season to fallen teammate Justin Bailey, Norwood, as in the last three seasons, have devoted their efforts to Matt Brown, who would have been a senior skater with the Mustangs this season.
Even though the Mustangs fell short of their ultimate goal, Norwood head coach Bill Clifford said his group has been one of his most memorable.
“They’re a special team, they really are,” Clifford said. “They would’ve like to have gotten a little bit further, but they were a great group.”
NOT TO BE OUTDONE
While Kwok might have emerged with the shutout and the win, Mustang netminder Jordan Davis was on par.
Davis, a junior, snagged the save of the game with a glove-side stop in the third period.
Natick forward Mike Pennett broke in on Davis on a breakaway with about 10 minutes to play. Pennett stick-handled into the slot before getting off a quick wrister from between the circles. Davis grabbed the rising shot and held on for a faceoff.
“He had a 1.50 goals against average through the season and he made some unbelievable stops tonight,” Clifford said of Davis.