BOURNE, Mass. – While not ideal, Falmouth girls’ hockey head coach Erin Hunt has come to expect a certain kind of finish from her team this season.
“They keep us right on the edge, until they know they need to get it done,” said Hunt of her young Clippers.
Facing No. 11 seed Westwood in the Division 2 state semifinals for the second straight year, Falmouth found itself in familiar territory, trailing by a goal headed into the third period. But somehow the Clippers have managed to find focus late in games and held true to their track record, taking the ice in the third with an ebullient noise and clatter.
But Falmouth also let their sticks do the talking in the final period, tallying three straight goals to claim a 3-1 comeback victory on Saturday at Gallo Arena. With the win, the Clippers earn the right to skate on the TD Garden ice for the state title against Duxbury, in a much-anticipated rematch of last year’s final.
“I’ll take anyone at the Garden,” Hunt said. “We’re happy to be there, but it’s nice to get another shot. They’re a great team, we split this year and I think it’s going to be a great game.”
Falmouth (19-1-2) stemmed the tide early in the third period while short-handed. The Clippers found themselves in another common position – on the penalty kill—when defenseman Hannah Ghelfi sprung Madison Haberl for a short-handed goal a minute and 58 seconds into the third.
“I always say, if you get a shorty, you’re going to win the game,” Hunt said. “It’s huge to get one when you’re a man down, so it was a huge momentum changer for us.”
Special teams again came into play when Falmouth scored on the power play at 4:31. Maggie MacDonald camped on the off wing post and put back the rebound off of Kendall Stouffer’s point shot.
The Wolverines (14-7-3) had their best scoring chance of the third when junior forward Ela Hazar split the Clippers’ defense pairing and bolted in on goaltender Madison Scavotto. Hazar had her second goal of the game ticketed for the low right-hand corner before Scavotto (20 saves) flashed her left toe with her finest save of the night.
Hazar scored the Wolverines’ lone goal at 5:34 of the second period, with an assist from Kelly Healy.
“We wanted to come through the neutral zone with speed, we wanted to forecheck them,” Westwood head coach Justin DeSorgher said. “We were successful at times; we weren’t as successful at times. They have a couple of defensemen who can really handle the puck. That does a lot against the forecheck.”
MAN IN THE BOX
At times, particularly at the tail end of the second period, there seemed to be a revolving door at the penalty boxes. The teams combined for 14 power-play opportunities (Falmouth had the advantage with eight of those).
And, while both coaches were perturbed by their teams’ propensity to wind up in the bin, the Clippers’ kill unit was up to the task, holding Westwood scoreless on six chances, allowing just three shots-on-goal during those opportunities.
While Falmouth had chances with the man-up, they did come away with one power-play tally, in addition to the crucial shorty by Haberl.
“They have a very aggressive penalty kill, a very aggressive power play,” DeSorgher said. “One our keys coming into this game was to not end up in the box. But we were in the box all night. That was tough to get over.”
Falmouth and Duxbury are no strangers, having split two regular-season tilts this year, following last year’s win by the Dragons at the Garden.
However, a couple of Clippers pointed to their 1-0 win over Duxbury on Jan. 5 as a significant moment, counting for more than a victory.
“They were so pumped to beat us the last time because we’d beaten them,” Scavotto said. “We learned that they value this rivalry as much as we do. We can’t underestimate that.”
While Westwood’s season comes to an end, there’s reason to believe a young Wolverines teams could yet have another late postseason meeting in store with Falmouth next year. Westwood loses just two seniors off its roster.
“It’s sad for our two seniors, Meghan Kelly and Kristina Barounis,” DeSorgher said. “They were here the year we first got here and to see them grow and mature. They’re great kids, it’s tough to see them as upset as they are.”
You know things are going well for a hockey team when its members talk about having fun.
Scavotto offered a refreshing take on goaltending and the game after celebrating with her teammates in a raucous room. Also, entering the third, you couldn’t much tell the Clippers’ season was on the line as they emerged from the intermission with a loud, stick-tapping display as they took the ice.
They’re a group that thrives on raw emotion and their vest for the game is evident in such displays.
Whether it’s Game 7 of the Cup finals, a state high school playoff game, or a game of shinny on the pond, at the end of the day, it’s a game.
“When you’re playing well, you’re having fun,” she said. “That’s what hockey’s all about to me.”