FALMOUTH, Mass. – In the words of Arlington Catholic head coach Dan Shine, the postseason started Saturday.
Every year, Falmouth hockey hosts its February vacation tournament – formerly known as the Cape Cod Classic and now known as the Buddy Ferreira Classic in honor of the Clippers’ recently retired head coach – and each year there are playoff implications.
That extended to the opening game of this year’s tournament, featuring a couple of Super 8 tournament hopefuls in No. 9 Arlington Catholic and No. 17 Duxbury.
Yet, in the early going, only one team answered the bell to start the prelude to the postseason, as the Dragons ran out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period. While AC woke up to mount a comeback at the midpoint, Duxbury endured with a 5-3 win.
With it, the Dragons – a Super 8 Watch List team – turned in a critical victory in enhancing their resume ahead of next Saturday’s selection meeting.
“One of the goals we set every year is to play meaningful games in February,” Dragons head coach John Blake said, “and there’s no better tournament than here to get you ready for the postseason than here. And I thought the guys came out today and played one of our best games of the year.”
Shayne O’Brien contributed to the Dragons’ fast start, as part of a three-point game (1 G, 2 A).
O’Brien had Duxbury (13-2-3) on the board at 3:27 with an unassisted goal, before adding an assist on Matt Murphy’s first of two goals on the day at 13:06 of the second.
Senior forward Scott Whear extended the Dragons’ lead to three at 2:10 of the second period. After an AC defensive zone turnover, Whear collected a loose puck at the top of the circles, walked in and finished through the 5-hole.
The Cougars (12-5-1) began their climb back at 4:45, when Ryan Tierney put back the rebound of his own shot. AC then closed the period with a modicum of momentum as Ryan Smith guided in a perfectly laid pass from the point by defenseman Brian Goggin at 13:27.
However, the Cougars’ swing in play didn’t carry over to the third.
“After being down 3-0, I was pleased we were able to get back in the game,” Shine said. “But when we got it to 3-2, we didn’t take it to the next level. But then we got bit by the bear. Giving up that goal 30 seconds into the third, that’s a killer – the air comes out of the tires.”
Just 32 seconds into the third, Dragons blue-liner Shawn Errasti pinched down low behind the AC net and placed a feed to the slot on the stick of Nick Marrocco, who buried the one-timer.
The Cougars kicked back once more a minute and 10 seconds later on an Aaron Cook goal.
But AC was never able to draw even against Dragons netminder Tucker Kelly (19 saves), as Duxbury added a last-minute, empty-net goal by Murphy.
“This tournament always answers a lot of questions, who’s on the bubble, who’s in, who’s out,” Blake said. “We just want to be playing our best hockey right now.”
Which is why Saturday was that much more frustrating for the Cougars.
“Everybody’s fighting for a spot somewhere,” Shine said. “Whether it’s a seed in the D1 tournament, or a bubble team trying to get into the 1A tournament, or the top six, wherever you are, every shift is critical.”
A game-changing stop: Duxbury advances to meet South Shore rival Hingham in a second-round game on Monday – and it should be another classic as the Harbormen need to win out to qualify for the Division 1 South tournament.
But Saturday’s win could have come down to one momentous stop from Duxbury’s senior netminder.
With AC threatening to even the score in the second period, Kelly shut the door on one of AC’s snipers in the final minute. Tierney raced in alone on Kelly, trying to stuff a back-hander short side. But Kelly got just enough of his pad on the shot to slow it short of the goal line.
It was one of his biggest saves of the year, which have increased as the season has progressed.
“He’s gotten better as the year’s gone along and he’s gotten more and more confident,” Blake said of Kelly.