LOWELL, Mass. – The legend of Monday night’s MIAA Division 1 North Final will continue to grow for a really long time. Three full periods, two overtimes and 10 rounds of the shootout were not enough to decide a winner.
Then, magic struck twice for Reading coach Mark Doherty. He sent Mike Thomson back out for his second attempt at the shootout in the 11th round, after being one of just two Rockets to be successful in the initial five rounds.
The senior went in on Wilmington senior goaltender Drew Foley, deked once and lifted a backhand past the sprawled out tender for the game-winning tally.
“He’s got skill,” Doherty said. “When we went to that second round [players could be re-used after the first 10 rounds] he’s obviously going to be the first guy to go. Thank goodness he came through.”
Mayhem ensued. Reading players, led by Thomson and senior goaltender Ian Lapham celebrated on top of one another in front of the Rockets student section. The whole team and the coaching staff joined in a truly jubilant celebration, worthy of what will go down as one of the most exciting games in high school hockey history in the Bay State.
“It was very exciting. One of my coaches said I almost had a heart attack [in the shootout],” joked Doherty, a sentiment probably felt by numerous other people in the building.
The 4-3 win vaults Reading into Sunday’s MIAA Division 1 State Championship game against Braintree at the TD Garden.
“I’m thrilled we came out on top,” Doherty said. “We’ve got Braintree on Sunday. I respect [Wamps] head coach Dave Fasano and it will be another great game. It’s great to have two [public schools] fighting for the state title.”
Brick walls: The real story of the game was the truly remarkable goaltending that was on display at both ends of the ice. Reading’s Lapham and Wilmington’s Foley traded saves blow-for-blow.
At times, the pair made it look as if there was a brick wall preventing pucks from crossing the goal line.
Foley made 40 saves in regulation and overtime. He made a multitude of spectacular saves throughout the game, but several stretches of play really stood out.
“Foley is terrific,” noted Doherty.
He flashed the leather to make three brilliant saves around the midway mark of the third period. Foley bailed out his team on several occasions in both overtime sessions, including when the Wildcats were down a man in the second extra period.
Lapham made 29 saves in regulation and the overtime periods, and although he made several highlight worthy saves during game action, he clearly saved his best for the shootout.
The senior made an incredible kick save on a Wilmington shooter during the shootout, a puck that was labeled for the bottom corner.
Lapham’s success in the shootout came as no surprise to his teammates and coaching staff.
“It’s funny, we were just joking about it,” Doherty said. “Ian backed up a kid named Evan Morelli for two years. Evan is a terrific goalie, but we always joked that Ian was better on breakaways. For some reason he’s just an outstanding breakaway goalie.”
Ironman Seibold: Reading junior defenseman Mike Seibold was the Rockets’ version of Zdeno Chara on Monday night. He hardly came off the ice, and at times appeared to be double shifting almost every time out on the ice.
Seibold was resilient, bouncing back from an uncharacteristic turnover that led to an early Wilmington goal.
“In the first period the puck got stuck near him. It was a bad break. I wasn’t worried about him fighting back. He was awesome after that. Instead of folding he figured it out,” said Doherty.
After that he bucked down, played a physically imposing game, keeping Wilmington’s charges to the perimeter and landing some bone-crunching hits.
“He’s a competitor,” Doherty said. “He threw a couple big hits that were huge, good, clean neutral zone hits. He can change the flow of a game. He’s a gamer. I truly expect Mike to play in big games.”
Brotherly connection: Mike Thomson was the shootout hero, but younger brother Matt, a freshman, found the back of the net twice as well. He scored the second goal of the game for the Rockets and led off the shootout with a successful strike.
“He can really shoot a puck and he has really good hands,” said Doherty of the elder Thomson.
Matt Thomson has some skill of his own, something that Reading fans will surely get accustomed to seeing over the next few years.
Wildcats legacy: Seniors Luke Foley and Austin O’Neal scored goals in their last high school game and fellow classmate Cody McGowan was one of just two Wildcats to score in the shootout.
The three talented senior forwards were part of a special group that will graduate seven this spring. The senior class will go down as the group that led the program’s transition from back-to-back Division 2 state championships to a berth in the Division 1 North final this season.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” Wilmington head coach Steve Scanlon said. “I don’t think anyone expected us to be in this game this year after all the talent we graduated. They’re hurting now, but they have a lot to be proud of.”