BOSTON -- For a team that may not have enough numbers to fill a varsity program next season, what Watertown accomplished this season with nine skaters is truly remarkable.
Behind their defense-first mindset, and creating offense off their defensive success, the Raiders captured their first ever Div. 3 State Championship with a 2-1 victory over Agawam.
“When you have a class like this and a goalie like that, and defensemen like that, and everybody else buys in, they are a family, they really are,” Watertown coach Mike Hayes said. “It means a lot for the program and the town, and they get to go out as champions."
Hayes instilled a family-first feel into the program, starting at the ground level and built up. That philosophy has led Watertown to a pair of successful seasons’ along with now, a state championship.
“It’s every kid, it’s the kid that never plays, he’s just as important as anyone,” Hayes explained. “Everyone is the same when you walk into that locker room, we try to build that.
“You have to have that foundation because if you are a bunch of individuals, it’s never going to happen.”
Having All-State goalie Anthony Busconi also helps. The senior, who notched his first career postseason shutout in the Eastern Mass finals against Norwell, was a mere seven seconds away from his second shutout in as many games until Agawam’s Seamus Curran slipped in a last-second shot.
“I just try to do my job, we play for each other, and my job is to stop the puck so I don’t want to let these guys down,” Busconi said.
Watertown’s defensive style of play will yield its fair share of shots on net, mostly from the outside, but Agawam took it to another level in the opening period. The Brownies came out buzzing, peppering Busconi with 14 first-period shots, who turned them all aside until the Raiders found their feet.
“There is no secret to our game, we are going to skate, make good plays, and reverse the ice,” Hayes explained. “We didn’t do any of that in the first.”
Turning defense into offense: The shot count is the last thing on the mind of the Raiders, who, more often than not, are outshot by a two-to-one margin.
Rather than set up their zone defense, they score in transition, which is where both of their goals came on Sunday, both from human-sparkplug Tyler Gardiner.
The first came at 8:46 of the second period when he moved in one-on-one with Agawam goalie Tyler McAnanama.
“It was an unbelievable game, Gardiner said. “I wanted to come in here and score at the TD Garden. Good defense leads to good offense and that was certainly the case with our two goals.”
While Watertown owned the second period, outshooting the Brownies 16-6 in the middle stanza, it was all Agawam in the third.
The Brownies launched 13 more shots on Busconi in the third as desperation began to set in with a one-goal deficit. Despite the constant zone-time, senior captain Austin Farry was confident in his team, and his goalie’s ability.
“It doesn’t make us that nervous, we know we have the best goalie in the state between the pipes,” Farry explained. “Coach [Hayes] writes up a good game plan and we just try to stick to it and today our game plan worked and we executed well.”
With McAnanama pulled, Gardiner netted his second of the game on the empty net, adding a bit of insurance.
Defensive mastermind: Against two of the top Div. 3 offensive squads in Norwell and Agawam, Mike Hayes inserted two perfect game plans to keep the juggernauts off the board.
After planning for Norwell’s back door-cut based offense, Watertown had to deal with a similar style of offense from Agawam. The Brownies offense revolved around taking the puck down low and feeing it in front.
While Agawam had a handful of good chances, the Raiders bottled up the offense that averages over five goals per game.
“They like to go behind the net and fire it in front for a quick shot and we kind of took that away,” Farry said. “We were prepared because it’s kind of the same style of play Norwell had and we were prepared and executed well.”
“They may not be a defenseman from MC who is polished,” Hayes added. “But they run the system and have bigger hearts than anyone you will ever meet and get the job done better than anyone else.”