BOURNE, Mass. -- Milton senior defenseman Dan Curran screamed to the rafters, which were teeming with his team’s supporters, “the Red Army is moving on, the Red Army is moving on.”
Indeed the Wildcats from Milton High School are moving on, to the TD Garden next weekend where they will play for the Division I state title.
Third-seeded Milton (19-3-2) got two goals in the first period and held back a feisty Natick (10-9-4) team yesterday at Gallo Ice Arena in Bourne, taking a 3-1 decision to capture the Division 1 south sectional title.
Curran’s twin brother Paul Curran was a big reason that Milton’s boots are still walking. The senior forward factored in all three of his team’s goals, scoring one just 10 seconds into the game and then assisting on the next two.
“It’s just something that you’ve always wanted, something you’ve dreamed about since youth hockey, senior year to be going to the Boston Garden to play for the state championship. Having all of these fans behind you, having the whole town behind, it just makes it that much better,” Paul Curran said after posing for a celebratory photograph at center ice with his teammates.
Wildcats head coach Paul Noonan said that booking the trip to the Garden is a happy surprise for his Wildcats. “I knew that we had a good team with some talent, and a lot of seniors (when the season started),” Noonan said. “It’s the best team we’ve had in a while, so I knew that we’d make at least a half decent run. But if I told you that I knew we’d be going to the Garden, I’d be a liar.”
Before the ice had finished drying from its pre-game cleaning the Wildcats were on the scoreboard. Paul Curran was sent in by Brian Higgins and punched it by Derek Kwok to set the tone for the afternoon.
“He’s a special player,” Noonan said. “He plays with his heart. He’s all passion, and he’s our leader. He makes things happen.”
The 'Cats flew around the ice and dominated the opening 15 minutes of the game, outshooting the Red & Blue by an 8-1 count. Ryan McDougall doubled the lead at 6:32 on a Frisbee from the right point that sailed through a ton of traffic and right by a completely screened Kwok. Terrence Walsh, who also assisted on the first goal, and Curran picked up the helpers.
Natick was lucky not to be down by another goal or two when they were finally able to regroup in the locker room after the period had ended. Curran just missed making it a 3-0 game with a backhander on a power play chance with 4:18 left in the stanza.
“We got an early goal there, and then we got a second one just a little while later and it’s easier to play with a two-goal lead, that made it a lot easier for us,” Noonan said.
It was during that late power play that Natick finally got a shot on goal when Andrew Newis stole the puck in the neutral zone and streaked in alone against Jay Hankard. Newis was unable to get solid wood on his shorthanded bid and the Milton keeper made the save to keep his team ahead by a pair after one.
“I can’t say enough about [Hankard],” Noonan said. “To go the whole period without seeing a shot and then the first one to be a shorthanded breakaway…he’s been awesome. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Hankard stopped 12 of the 13 shots he faced in the game. During the south tourney he allowed just two goals in the three the Wildcats played.
“It’s so much better as a forward knowing you’ve got that wall behind you,” Paul Curran said. “He’s just been so good, especially in the playoffs.”
Each team scored a second period goal. Natick, which came out with much better energy after the break, cut the deficit in half at 4:17 of the second when the puck left a scrum near Hankard and found the blade of Mike Perry in the slot. The Red and Blue forward wasted no time delivering a wrister towards the net that sailed over Hankard’s left leg pad and sneaked inside the nearside post to make it 2-1.
Three minutes later Milton reclaimed the two-goal advantage. The high-scoring Higgins finished off a quick strike by the Wildcats. Milton won a faceoff outside the zone and zig-zagged the puck up the right side with Walsh feeding Curran, who slid it to Higgins in the middle. Higgins crossed over and beat Derek Kwok through the five-hole for the Cats’ third strike of the afternoon.
Neither team scored in the third period and each spent the bulk of stanza switching between their power play and penalty kill units. The game itself was riddled with penalties as 23 total infractions were cited against the teams.
One team’s dream come true was another’s nightmare. Natick had an impressive run just to be in the south title game come to a close, finishing off a season that had some very high highs and extremely low lows. Early in the season the Red and Blue were shocked when freshman Justin Bailey passed away unexpectedly. The team had an emotional season and rallied to qualify on the last day of the regular season, beginning a storybook run that had a tough ending.
“I knew that we had the talent to be here. We have the goaltender, one or two solid lines. We had suspensions, injuries, Justin dying, we had some adversity throughout the year,” Red & Blue head coach Karl Infanger said. “We definitely had the talent to be here, with a little emotional punch to get over the top. But I think it all kind of caught up with us today.”
“I give a lot of credit to Natick. That’s a good team over there and they had to take the long road to get here. They had to win their last game of the year to get into the tourney, they had to beat the same team again in the tourney, they had beat Needham, a Super 8 team. Then they had to beat Norwood, the best team in the Bay State League. I tell you, that’s a high mountain to climb. We’re fortunate to be here,” Noonan said.