STONEHAM, Mass. -- Friday night's Division 2 North doubleheader at Stoneham Arena finished with two teams moving on to the sectional semifinals in one fantastic night of hockey.
First up, No. 8 Wilmington knocked off top-seeded Lynnfield in a 2-1 nail-biter.
The Pioneers (18-4-1) brought their game early as the Wildcats (13-4-5) found themselves contained in their own defensive zone for the majority of the first period. But after a slow start, Wilmington’s physical play began to open up space for their offense. The defense held strong and the offense was opportunistic, allowing the Wildcats to cling to a one-goal lead.
Goaltender Drew Foley stood on his head early for the Wildcats, stopping all 12 first period shots generated by Lynnfield’s offense. The solid presence in net allowed Wilmington to survive the initial onslaught brought on by the Pioneers.
“He’s our ‘X’ factor,” Wildcats head coach Steve Scanlon said after the game. “He’s one kid who doesn’t get rattled, he’s able to get scored on and bounce right back.”
After the first period, the play began to tilt in Wilmington’s favor. Both teams went up and down the ice, trading chances in a back and forth battle. Earning every inch of ice was a grind, especially for Lynnfield who began struggling to enter the offensive zone cleanly as the Wildcats began dominating the physical play.
It was captain Dalton Rolli who set the physical standard early and often, leaving Lynnfield bodies all over the ice.
“He’s a real physical player.” Scanlon said. “He’s our captain; he’s our leader, and he set the tone early he got out there and started banging bodies.”
The Wildcats put the Pioneers’ defense on their heels after the first period. After attacking the Lynnfield net for the first five minutes of the second period, Wilmington was able to put one home on a slap shot from blue-liner Brian Pickett which deflected through the open five-hole of goalie Joe Bassi.
Pickett added an early third period goal on a hard wrist shot from the slot that would prove to be the game-winning goal.
Lynnfield found their legs and were able to crack Foley to come within a goal of sending the game to overtime. Despite a frantic finish, the Wildcats held on and advanced.
NO. 5 NORTH ANDOVER 1, NO. 4 DANVERS 0
The night cap also played to a one-goal game with No. 4 Danvers facing off against No. 5 North Andover.
Despite carrying the play, the Scarlet Knights (16-4-4) found themselves knotted in a 0-0 tie with the Falcons (15-6-0) entering the third period. A late goal came with just more than three minutes left in the final frame, and North Andover made no mistakes with the lead, holding on to win 1-0.
The Falcons exhibited a “bend, don’t break” mentality throughout all three periods of play. North Andover was consistently on the attack, utilizing their speed to back Danvers’ defensemen off allowing them easy breakouts and access to the offensive zone.
Danvers survived numerous flurries and scrums in their own crease without letting the rubber cross the line.
The two teams entered the third period tied 0-0. Both had their opportunities, but North Andover was consistently able to generate offense until finally, with 3:20 left in the game, forward Derek Hunter jammed a bouncing puck through the pads of goalie Steve Wilkinson amidst a crowd of flying sticks and bodies.
Danvers head coach Kevin Brown understands a team can only withstand so much.
“You get to that point in the game, and they had just rung one off the post ... in games when it’s tough to score like that it’s usually a funny bounce one way or the other that seals it,” he said. “Unfortunately, for us, the puck didn’t bounce in our direction.”
For North Andover, the win did not come easily, but their persistence paid off.
“We played a good game, you know, we had a lot of chances,” North Andover coach Pete Marfione said. “Sometimes you get a little frustrated when it takes that long to bury one but we’ll take a 1-0 win any day.”
The victors of the two games will play each other on Tuesday, March 7 at the Chelmsford Forum for an opportunity to play for the Division 2 North title.