NORTH BILLERICA, Mass. – It wasn’t easy; it was Middlesex League hockey.
After an early Melrose flurry, Burlington buckled down and defeated the Red Raiders, 3-0, Thursday night in a physical Division 1 North semifinal at Chelmsford Forum.
“Without question [Melrose] has always played us tough,” Burlington coach Bob Conceison said. “We had a little trouble getting going, but once we were able to break the trap we did pretty well getting the puck in their zone. It was a character win.”
Melrose (12-8-4) set the tempo early by peppering Derek DeCastro, but the senior turned aside everything that came his way and allowed the Red Devil attack to gain momentum. The Red Devils broke through late in the first period when J.P Scola put them on the board.
Scola, and his line mate C.J. Grinnell, seemed to be everywhere for Burlington (12-6-5) once the Red Devils started gaining momentum.
“It was really good playing out there,” Scola said. “I knew somebody had to step it so I just stepped it up and played my game.”
The second period mirrored the first in both pace and puck possession. Scola fed Grinnell with a phenomenal pass from behind the goal line that allowed Grinnell to easily slide the puck into the open goal.
Sean Murphy added an empty-net goal in the final minute to seal the deal.
“He got hurt last year here in the semis, and I think he was really determined tonight,” Conceison said of Grinnell. “I think that really motivated him. He had an unbelievable game. He was the best fore-checker, back-checker. He was everywhere.”
Melrose was able to press the action in short bursts, but DeCastro constantly found ways to keep the puck out of the net. The senior made 10 of his 21 saves in the third period.
“He’s a rock back there,’ Conceison said of Decastro. “I told him tonight was his game, and it certainly was his game. Good focus tonight, great concentration; he did a great job for us.”
The defending Division 1 state champion Red Devils will face Winchester in the sectional title game Monday at the Tsongas Center.
RED RAIDERS PRIMED FOR FUTURE
With only four players graduating, the future looks bright for Melrose. After finishing the season on a 6-2-2 run, the Red Raiders made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
Melrose coach Vin Mirasolo said that his team has nothing to be ashamed of.
“These kids can hold their heads high because what they gave to Melrose high hockey is nothing short of historical,” Mirasolo said. “It’s fantastic. I thought we gave every bit of energy that we had. I think this will be a learning experience for the boys in the locker room and the program going forward.”
PENALTY KILLIN’ IT
From the beginning there was contact aplenty, and it was musical chairs in the penalty box.
Burlington’s penalty kill stepped in a big way to keep the clean sheet, going 5-for-5 with the man-down. The kill of Adam Crowley’s penalty late in the third period took the wind out of Melrose’s sails.
“Our PK’s been good all year but particularly in the tournament and we needed it tonight,” Conceison said. “They score a lot of goals on the PP and it was a big part of a game that we were able to kill those penalties.”