FALMOUTH, Mass. – Earlier this season, Duxbury hockey head coach John Blake mused about when his team might get its due as the best public school in Massachusetts this year.
For those who might have doubted the Dragons previously, that certainly changed Thursday night.
Duxbury – hungry to earn a berth in the Super 8 tournament – dispatched No. 2 BC High, 5-2, with a concerted attention to team defense, playing the body and an MVP-worthy performance from senior forward Shayne O’Brien in the championship game at the Buddy Ferreira Classic.
“To beat a club like BC High, you almost have to have a perfect game,” Blake said. “I thought we were about as close to perfect as we could be.”
The Dragons (15-2-3) scored on three of their first six shots on goal and frustrated the Eagles’ slick-skating transition game through center ice throughout.
As important to Duxbury’s opportunistic nature in the attack zone, the Dragons were able to limit BC High’s scoring chances on other half of the ice sheet. Through two periods, the Eagles (14-2-4) could muster just four shots on Dragons netminder Tucker Kelly.
“We knew they’re defensive is active, they like to stay in control of the puck,” O’Brien said. “We knew we had to get on them right away on the forecheck and our first guy was always in there as fast as he could, banging in the corner, getting in there fast to pick up the puck.”
With Duxbury’s tight-checking style, the Dragons met and exceeded the Eagles’ physical play in the early going, setting a tone for a 45-minute battle.
As BC High was continually rebuffed attempting to gain Duxbury’s blue line, the Dragons’ momentum swelled as they broke through for a power-play goal at 12:02 of the first. Trevor O’Brien beat Brandon Payzant stick side with a wrist shot from the slot.
Duxbury struck again before the period was out, as Shayne O’Brien tallied his first of two goals on the game. Shayne O’Brien, who was named the tournament’s MVP, showed a nose for the goal with wraparound shot at 13:58, sending Duxbury to the room with a two-goal cushion.
Shayne O’Brien scored his fifth goal of the tournament at the 9-minute mark of the second, with an assist from defenseman Shawn Errasti.
However, the stage was set for the Eagles to climb back into the game at the start of the third. Two minor penalties were assessed to Duxbury at the 15-minute mark of the second – a roughing penalty and an unsportsmanlike penalty given to the Dragons’ bench.
BC High immediately capitalized on its minute and 30 seconds of 5-on-3 advantage. Chris LaLiberte directed in a cross-ice pass from Jake Lemanski 25 seconds into the third.
The power play factored again when Duxbury reestablished its 3-goal lead at 7:26. Defenseman Tyler Powers’ slap from the point clanged in off the post to beat Payzant on an extended power play off a 4-minute major checking-from-behind penalty.
The Eagles were still alive, however, striking for a short-handed tally off the ensuing faceoff. Eight seconds following Powers’ strike, Lemanski scored, the beneficiary of a Steve DeForge neutral-zone takeaway, making it 4-2.
BC High had its best chance to add another with less than three minutes remaining, as the Eagles unloaded five shots on Kelly during their sixth power play of the game. Much of the power play was played 6-on-4, as BC High head coach John Flaherty lifted Payzant for an extra attacker with a little more than two minutes remaining.
Kelly made nine of his 13 saves in the third period.
“The third period was probably his best period of the year,” Blake said of his junior goaltender. “He knows in big games that he has to make big saves for us. He’s a kid that’s gotten more and more confident all year long, he’s played in big games all year long. He’s battle-tested and, today, he rose to the occasion.”
While the Duxbury penalty kill (Eagles were 1-for-6 on the PP) held, Powers capped a strong game – offensively and defensively – with an empty-net goal, his second.
Tighten your chin strap: Duxbury entered the game looking to play the body early and often.
“We thought to have chance tonight, we’d have to be the more physical team,” Blake said.
But there was a flip side to that.
“We had to take some penalties by playing physical,” Blake added.
To the point that it put the Dragons at a greater disadvantage, as top-pairing blue-liner Shawn Errasti was lost for a portion of the third period, after taking his fourth minor penalty of the game.
Down one of its top penalty killers and a minutes leader among defensemen, Duxbury’s blue-line corps passed their test in gut-check time.
But, greater than that, the Dragons’ defensive brilliance was to a man, as the defenseman created a wall along their own blue line, with the forwards hustling back to slow down the transition game from BC High’s fleet-footed defensemen.
“They knew they have to control their gaps and play them as fast they could so [BC High] couldn’t get their speed going,” Shayne O’Brien said of Duxbury’s defensemen. “We knew they had to control their and our backcheckers bust [it] back.”
A bigger loss?: While BC High wasn’t fighting for its Super 8 life on Thursday, a greater concern to the Eagles’ greater chances developed in the first period of play.
Sophomore forward and Merrimack commit Patrick Kramer (12-21-33) left the game after a late-first period shift, following an awkward looking hip check in the corner and another spill in front of the Eagles bench. He did not return.
Striding to the finish line: No team in the state improved its Super 8 chances in the final week-plus of the regular season more than the Dragons.
Coming away with three wins on the Cape virtually assures that the tournament’s field will host at least one public, after the Dragons ran the table.
“We want to be playing our best hockey, so we just put it together in the end,” Shayne O’Brien said.
Meanwhile, the Eagles ended their regular season with a negative thud. Vying for the top overall seed in the Super 8 tournament, BC High had a chance to sew up No. 1, particularly after Malden Catholic lost to Springfield Cathedral on Thursday at the Panthers’ annual tournament in West Springfield.
While the Catholic Conference champions still have an inside track to claiming the top seed at Saturday’s selection meeting, the Eagles missed an opportunity to leave no shadow of a doubt.
One for the publics: Aside the playoff-like atmosphere and a huge boost to the Dragons’ Super 8 hopes, Blake reflected on his team’s accomplishment as the champions of Falmouth’s vacation week tournament, now named after the Clippers’ longtime and recently retired bench boss. It also was Duxbury's first championship win at the event, formerly known as the Cape Cod Classic.
As a revered figure in state hockey circles, Buddy Ferreira served as leading figure to many young coaches, including Blake.
“I think it’s fitting that the first year the tournament’s named after Buddy Ferreira that a public school wins this,” Blake said. “Buddy was a mentor of mine when I first started coaching in Duxbury, having him and [Hingham’s] Garrett Reagan, rest his soul, they kind of took me under their wings and taught me about coaching, a lot about kids, a lot about the game of hockey. We wanted to win this one for Buddy Ferreira, too.”