LOWELL, Mass. – Call it what you will –Battle of Ed Burns Arena, A-Town Throwdown, The Arlington Conflict – the Division 1 North final lived up to the anticipation that two rivals from the same town would cause.
In the first postseason matchup between the in-town rivals since 1998, Arlington Catholic defeated Arlington, 4-1, paving their final road to the TD Garden where they will play Hingham on Sunday for the MIAA Division 1 championship.
“Don’t kid one another, we both want to win,” said Arlington Catholic coach Dan Shine, who made it a point to visit the Arlington locker room following the game. “I think what’s happened over the last few years is that the two programs have gained a lot of respect for one another.
“Coach [John] Messuri and I talk a couple of times a week. We both have great pride in our programs and we both want our programs to be successful. This is about our players and they don’t have that many opportunities to do this.”
Don’t let the score fool you, the game was all square heading into the third period until Ryan Tierney scored halfway through the final period and Jack Rogers added two late empty netters from distance.
The game-winner was an all-out effort by Ryan Tierney who pinched along the halfboards and worked the puck away from two Arlington players before shooting up the left wing and blasting a low shot past Ryan Cote to make it 2-1.
“Ryan’s been snake bitten,” said Shine. “He hasn’t had too many goals in the last four, five games. He needed that and we were talking to him on the bench about getting shots, getting pucks to the net. I’m really happy for him.”
“Coach said to skate them wide because they were getting tired,” said Tierney. ”So I just went right down the wing, put it on net and was fortunate enough to go short side, low.”
The Cougars took the first steps toward the Garden just 2:44 into the game with captain Ryan Spagnoli giving his team the early 1-0 lead with a haughty effort from the slot that zipped just fast enough to deflect off of Ryan Conte and in.
Dylan Morris was a rock in net for A.C., stopping all nine shots faced in the first, including a slapshot by Jeff Gorman from the left point which was calmly collected.
The Cougars had a couple of late chances to extend their lead, including a Spagnoli rip that clipped the left post, but they would settle for the one goal advantage heading into the second period.
The Spy Ponders pulled even with the only goal in a tightly contest second period.
Working their second power play opportunity of the game, Arlington got the puck low in the Cougars zone when John Piggott emerged from behind the right side of the net, slinging it to the far post and in at 10:11.
Again the Cougars had some late pressure, this time off of a faceoff in the Ponders zone with eight ticks on the clock.
After working the faceoff from the left circle back the point, Jack Rogers unleashed a missile that, although initially stopped by Cote, was hard enough to not be contained and as the puck lay in front of the Spy Ponders goalie Ryan Tierney swooped in to take a whack at the rebound, only to find a sturdy right pad in his path.
The game was iced in the final minute as the Cougars held tight to their one goal lead and Arlington looking for an extra-man advantage with Cote pulled.
Twice Rogers fired from his own end of the ice, the first from the left circle and the second from deep in his own slot, with both efforts cleanly finding the net.
CAPE TRIP TIES BOND: The last time the Cougars lost a hockey game was back on February 16th, 2-0, against Hingham in the Buddy Ferreira Classic.
It was then, during their long treks back and forth from Falmouth for the three day tournament that Arlington Catholic banded together.
“After losing our first one to Hingham we knew we had to win the next two to set ourselves up somewhere good,” said Tierney. “We weren’t fortunate enough to make it into the Super 8, but we’re happy where we are right now and we’re fortunate to get the Ws.”
Arlington Catholic went on to beat Duxbury and Waltham in their next two games to finish off their regular season strong and after slotting into the Division 1 tournament, they rolled through Billerica, Burlington, Andover and Arlington to earn a trip to the TD Garden, conveniently setting up a rematch against Hingham.
“We kind of took a little bit of an oath together when we were down in the Cape,” said Shine. “Really we’ve played well ever since.”