WOBURN, Mass. -- A trip to Woburn's O'Brien Arena for a pair of Div. 2 North quarterfinal round tilts told two very different tales and resulted in a pair of very familiar rivals setting up for a showdown in Tuesday's semifinals:
NO. 10 WINTHROP 1, NO. 2 BOSTON LATIN 0
Enduring heavy pressure from a Boston Latin team well aware that it's season was on the line, Winthrop's senior goalie Steven Waites had to stare down the barrel of dangerous Wolfpack sniper Conal Lynch not once, but twice, with under a minute and a half to play.
Lynch managed to get a pair of great looks from the slot, one off a faceoff and the other at the end of a scramble for possession. Both times, Waites got himself in position to make the stops, letting each shot scream into his chest and securing the win for his Vikings in the process.
"It was nerve-wracking," Waites admitted afterward. "My team definitely played great in front of me and I just had to do the best I could and be solid out there and just try to win the game and we did."
Dan Eruzione staked the Vikings (14-6-2) to an early lead after linemate Chris Leblanc made a great hustle play to keep possession. Leblanc blocked a Boston Latin (15-3-4) clearing attempt just outside the blue line and worked the puck back into the zone along the left wing boards.
While battling with a pair of defenders, Leblanc spied Eruzione flying through the zone and pushed a soft pass forward to the sophomore. Eruzione turned and fired a shot from a tough angle, but the puck snuck through just inside the far post at 2:32 of the first.
"It was communication," Leblanc explained. "I heard Danny call for a chip and we’re good with that. We communicate well. I just tried to throw it in the middle and I got it to him and he did the rest."
Added Eruzione, "Chris did a real nice job down low, forechecked the hell out of their defenseman and found me really nice off the wall and I just found the back of the net. More luck than anything but I found it."
From there, the Vikings settled into their trap and the four-man defensive corps led by Mike Paulson teamed up with Waites to shut down several strong scoring chances for the Wolfpack.
"Defense wins championships. I know its cliche but its true and we pride ourselves on team defense," Winthrop head coach Dale Dunbar said. "I think our goals against is maybe under two and it’s been like that for a long time because we pride ourselves on knowing that, if you want to be a playoff team, you have to play good in your own end. Offense comes from defense and I thought we got away from it in the second period so I wanted to make sure our mindset was five in the house, make sure we’re sacrificing our body, chip pucks out, and just be on the right side of pucks and we did."
NO. 11 SAUGUS 7, NO. 14 LINCOLN-SUDBURY 2
While goals were hard to come by in the early game, the Sachems had little trouble putting the pedal to the metal. Saugus scored five times in the first period, twice shorthanded, and were able to maintain its lead for the win.
"We've got our edge back a little bit," Sachems head coach Jeff Natalucci said. "Last year at this time of the year, we were playing with an edge and I really feel like we've got it back. We could have easily packed it in the other night down 3-1 and quit [an eventual 5-4 overtime win over Beverly]. The other night was a huge win for us to build off. We're playing together. All three lines are going hard, our D are playing hard and we're just playing well as a group."
Given the fact that these two teams met 11 days ago and battled to a 0-0 tie in the Newburyport Bank Classic, with Saugus winning in a shootout, the first-period offensive eruption would seem a bit surprising. Natalucci has been imploring his team to get out of the gates quicker, and was hoping the comeback against Beverly would carry over.
Kurt Rodrigues notched a hat trick and added a pair of assists, Saige Tait score twice and Drew Oxley had a goal and two helpers. Rodrigues and Tait each scored twice in the first period, and both had shorthanded tallies on the same penalty kill. Nick Taylor scored the other Saugus goal.
In particular, it's been the Sachems top line of Rodrigues, Oxley and freshman Anthony Cieri leading the way in a stretch of four wins over the team's last five games.
"I've played with Drew my whole life," Rodrigues said when asked about his line. "He's one of the best passers in the league and we always connect on those two-on-ones. Our freshman Anthony Cieri's playing real well. He's come along good in the playoffs. It's just clicking for us at the right time."