FRANKLIN, Mass. -- Westwood knows it caught a break. But in the world of competitive sports, no one is about to complain, especially if you happen to be on the winning side.
In tonight's Tri-Valley League early-season showdown, it appeared as though the Wolverines would have to settle for a tie against rival Medway at the Staff Sgt. Pirelli Veterans Memorial Rink. Westwood was nursing a one goal lead through much of the final period until Mustang junior Kevin Kaufman ripped a shot from the left circle that eluded all-everything goaltender Will Ribas to knot things up.
As the clock ticked down to a few precious seconds, the Wolverines made one final rush into the Medway zone. Junior captain Ken Mackin let go of a shot from about 20 feet out. The puck hit the stick of Mustang goalie Mike Purnell and soared into the air. Kaufman, standing alongside Purnell, tried to swat the puck mid-air away from the net but instead, the puck deflected off his stick and went backwards into the net with 16 seconds remaining giving the Wolverines an unexpected 2-1 triumph.
"We kept skating but I don't think this was our best game and it wasn't Medway's best game either," Wolverines head coach Mike Welby said. "We tried to keep skating with those guys and put pucks deep and tried to work the puck to the net. We knew their goalie was good so we knew a second goal would be tough to come by. It's tough to see a game end like that where it goes off their own player's stick but that's the way it goes sometimes."
With the victory, Westwood improves to 2-0-0 while Medway drops to 0-1-0.
The Mustangs controlled most of the action. The Wolverines had trouble containing the puck at both ends of the ice due in large part to a solid mix of fore and back checking by the Medway defense. That, in turn, led to some quality chances offensively.
However, in spite of holding a 24-13 advantage in shots through two periods, the Mustangs trailed 1-0. At 12:50 of the middle frame, Wolverine forward Mike Riley gained possession of the puck after it caromed off the back dasher and onto his stick. The junior, left all alone in front, slipped a shot by Purnell.
"We tell our kids all the time to get the puck to the net and get bodies to the net," Welby said. "Good things will happen. Fortunately, tonight something good happened for us."
Throughout this contest, Medway was left wondering if it would catch a break as easily as Westwood did. For the first time all game, the Wolverines opened the third period the aggressor. Looking to add to its lead, Westwood put up a couple of quality chances on Purnell (18 saves) but came away with nothing to show for it.
With just under nine minutes remaining, Medway freshman Andrew Diebus had his team's best chance of the evening after rifling a hard wrist shot at Ribas.
But the netminder reacted quickly by sticking his left pad out and turning the shot aside. Ribas, who last year maintained a productive 1.50 goals-against-average, looks to be on track for another stellar season between the pipes.
"A lot of our success has to do with the way our defense plays," said Ribas, finishing with 31 stops. "If I do let up a rebound it's always going in the corners. I think our team is extremely deep this year and I think we're going to give everyone we play a good run. We hadn't beaten Medway in five years so it feels pretty good. I felt we all played very well tonight."
With the clock showing less than six minutes to play, the Mustangs finally caught a break after Medway defenseman Joe Reissfelder was sent to the penalty box for interference -- the first and only penalty charged to the Wolverines all night. It took but eight seconds for Medway to capitalize on the man-advantage thanks to Kaufman's tally coming at 9:12.
During the final four minutes, both teams worked feverishly in their attempts to score the go-ahead goal only to come away empty. That is until the fluke score in the waning seconds which left the Mustangs a bit stunned.
"I told our kids how proud I was in the way they fought back," Medway head coach Chris Ross said. "Westwood has a very good goaltender and we knew we had to throw a lot of pucks toward the net and jump on rebounds. We just couldn't bury our chances when we had them. We weren't getting there for any loose rebounds. We were getting some good first shots but not getting good second opportunities off the rebounds.”
Ross continued, “In the third period we started doing that a little more and were able to tie things up. But sometimes when you put yourself in a situation late where anything can happen, sometimes anything does happen."