WATERTOWN, Mass. -- Austin O'Neil, the talented forward/center of the Wilmington boys’ hockey team says the Wildcats are finally starting to come together at the right time.
On Wednesday night, it showed.
Striking for a pair of first period goals, Wilmington went on to overwhelm mighty Watertown 4-0 in a battle of Middlesex League combatants played at John Ryan Skating Arena.
The 15th ranked Wildcats improve their overall record to 9-3-7 and still have a chance to win the league outright with a mark of 7-2-6. The loss for the 16th ranked Red Raiders (12-2-4, 9-2-3) marks their first since Dec. 18, when they fell to Arlington.
"The seniors who have been on this team for four years know what it is all about to play tough teams like this," said O'Neil, who scored a goal and chipped in with a couple of assists. "Even myself, being on the varsity for a couple of years now and our juniors realize it. All the chemistry is starting to filter in. Coming into this year we knew we would have the chemistry. It was just a matter of us finding the right lines in terms of who to put with who. We're finding our groove right now."
Wilmington was hardly phased by Watertown's successful track record. When these two clubs squared off against one another back on Jan. 11, they played to a 1-1 tie. It was a game Wilmington came away feeling it was the better team. With a chance to prove it in this rematch, the Wildcats wasted little time proving it.
Just 2:09 in, sophomore forward William Falter, taking a behind-the-net feed from O'Neil, fired a shot past Red Raider goaltender Anthony Busconi to put the Wildcats in front. Throughout the opening frame, Watertown had tremendous difficulty moving the puck effectively inside the Wilmington zone. Every time the Red Raiders managed to do so, there was a Wildcat waiting for them to disrupt the action. In fact, Watertown's first shot on goal didn't come until there was 4:58 left in the period.
Meanwhile, Wilmington's offense was moving the puck swiftly around the ice with relative ease, spending ample time inside the Red Raiders' zone. This would lead to the Wildcats going up 2-0 at 5:29 when Luke Foley grabbed hold of a rebound out front and pushed the puck past Busconi, who finished with 19 saves.
"This was a good win," said Wilmington assistant coach Brian Gouthro, filling in for head coach Steve Scanlon, who couldn't make the trip due to a foot injury. "The kids played like they should. It was important for us to get that first goal and not play coming from behind against those guys. They play a style similar to us. When we can play our style it's a good game for us to play."
After sleepwalking through the opening 15 minutes, Watertown finally started to revert back to the physical, aggressive style it is known for during the middle period. Showing better ability in working the puck down ice, the Red Raiders still couldn't buy a goal thanks to some solid work by Wildcat netminder Drew Foley.
The senior stopped all 20 shots he faced.
At 7:19 of the second, Wilmington would add to its lead. O'Neil won the face off inside the right circle, swatting the puck over to teammate Brian Cavanaugh. The sophomore picked it up and fired a quick wrist shot through traffic over Busconi's left shoulder to make it a three-goal advantage.
"Usually early on we've started off kind of slow," O'Neil said. "So overall, in the early going and especially in first period, it has been a little rough for us this year. But we knew tonight was a crucial game for us. We came in and started out playing very hard right from the start. Going up early on them the way we did was huge for us."
With one period remaining, Wilmington went on the defensive, bunching up on any Red Raider with the puck on his stick. To Watertown's credit, the final frame was its best offensively, finishing with 10 shots. By then, however, this game was already in the bag. Only 1:23 into the final frame, O'Neil lifted a shot over Busconi's catching glove, extending the Wildcats' lead to four goals.
"Austin stepped up big and played more-physical," Gouthro said. "Especially with Steve not being here, he has assumed more of a role up front. He's been playing real well for us."
Over the final 13 minutes, Wilmington played a bend-but-don't-break style, with much of the focus on the defensive end. In spite of that, Watertown was still able to get some shots through. Unfortunately for them, Foley was there to stonewall them at every turn, earning the shutout.