- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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WOBURN, Mass. –- Bitter Middlesex League rivals No. 14 Woburn and No. 16 Burlington engaged in their first of two regular season meetings Wednesday night at the O’Brien rink and all was even.
From the play on the ice, to the vocal displays of admiration from the respective schools’ student fan section, the Tanners and Red Devils played out a scene that frequently could be repeated across the league this year. After skating to a 2-2 tie, there wasn’t much separating the teams in any regard – even the shots-on-goal battle ended in an 18-18 draw.
And while both sides came away disappointed, in other ways, the went home satisfied yet.
“The Middlesex League is probably the best public school league,” Burlington senior captain C.J. Grinnell said. “Anything can happen at any point.”
While the Tanners (2-0-1) dropped their first point of the season, they were fortunate to come away with one at all.
Trailing 2-1 with less than three minutes to play, Woburn defensemen Mark Desantis’ point shot found its way through the wall of traffic in front of Burlington netminder Derek DeCastro (16 saves).
On the bulk, both teams split the action, but Burlington (1-1-1) took the ice in the first period with a decided jump in their stride. And even though the Red Devils carried the action, they found themselves in an early hole as Tanners senior center Jared Baker forced a neutral zone turnover and sped in alone on a partial breakaway. Baker’s back-handed finish gave Woburn a 1-0 lead at 6:29.
Yet, Burlington kept coming and their aggressive forecheck was rewarded on its first goal scored by Grinnell at 8:38. Grinnell sped up the left wing boards and into the Woburn zone. After gaining position between the defense and Tanners netminder Jeremy Flibotte (16 saves), Grinnell snuck a beautiful back-handed snipe under the roof of the cross bar.
It was a welcome change of fortune.
“I’ve been snake-bitten all year,” Grinnell said of his first goal on the season. “I’ve hit maybe six, seven crossbars in the first couple of games. I used my speed, just went to the outside and I saw the goalie go down early, so I went upstairs.”
Less than a minute later, the Red Devils claimed a 2-1 lead – a lead they would go on to hold for more than two periods – with junior defensemen Adam Crowley’s partial slapper from inside the left side circle. Fellow blue-liner Sean Costa picked up an assist on the play.
Burlington maintained its slim margin until the 12:02 mark of the third when Woburn tallied the equalizer on Desantis’ blasts.
GLASS HALF FULL
Both head coaches harped on the fact that they return young squads and that Wednesday’s result was more a stepping stone than a step back.
“I’m proud of them,” Woburn bench boss Jim Duran said. “We did the little things, playing good team defense, we were solid in our own end and making the most of our chances.”
Likewise, Bob Conceison, whose Red Devils are coming off a Division 1 state championship last season but lost several key players to graduation, saw plusses to the minuses.
“I thought the first period we came out and played really, really well. I think they adjusted in the second period and they came out flying. I wasn’t happy with the way we came out in the second. We didn’t match them and we came out a little bit lethargic.”
ON THE RISE
Those young rosters mean that the more senior Tanner and Red Devil skaters are going to be called upon to do more this season.
Wednesday’s performance provided a glimpse to the maturation of a couple of those such players.
Baker’s goal was the result of a great individual effort in the neutral zone, putting the Tanners on the board. Duran is hoping Baker will fulfill a great role as the pivot on the Tanners’ top line, centering Joe Connors and Colin Flynn.
“He knows he has to do that, he and Joey [Connors] and the Baldino twins [Christian and Nick], even though they’re just sophomores. Jared and Joey have been in big games and that helps us and what really helps us is that they’re such hard workers. They never take a shift off.”
Meanwhile, a goal and a steady night in his own zone from Crowley drew plenty of praise.
“Adam’s one of the most important players on our team,” Conceison said of the junior defenseman. “None of our other defensemen have seen playing time, they’re all new defensemen. Adam’s stabilized them, he leads that group and he’s our catalyst back there. I think he played a tremendous game tonight. When he plays this way, he came be one of the best defensemen around.”