PEABODY, Mass. -- After raising their 2009-10 Northeastern Conference championship banner to the rafters, it took a while for Peabody High hockey’s title defense to swing into full gear Tuesday night.
The No. 23 Tanners were out-shot (14-5) and out-played through the first period by league rival Winthrop. However, Peabody goaltender Derek Savage rode out the storm and his team went to the break in a scoreless tie.
Although the Vikings got on the board first during the second period, the Tanners stepped up their forecheck and asserted their physical brand of play while scoring the next three goals and taking a 3-1 win in a chippy season-opener.
“They definitely had us back on our heels to start there,” Peabody head coach Mark Leonard said. “But as the game wore on, our forecheck picked up and I thought we had the better of the play in the third.
“I challenged them after the first period. I wasn’t happy and neither were they.”
Winthrop (0-1-1, 0-1-0) broke the stalemate midway through the second period when Chris Leblanc fired a one-timer that trickled through Savage’s pads and barely snuck past the goal line. Joseph Scarfo had the assist.
The Tanners (1-0-0) responded little more than a minute later on Ryan Noftle’s goal set up by Tom Marmiani and Tommy Burns.
“That’s been our problem, we’re not capitalizing on our chances, especially early in the game,” Vikings head coach Dale Dunbar said. “We’re letting teams hang around. I thought they did a nice job with their physical presence, taking us off pucks and changing the momentum of the game.”
Marmiani got on the score sheet again, netting what would prove the game-winning goal 2:36 into the third period. He banged home the rebound off a shot from the point by defenseman Eric Muise.
“He told us to keep working hard, get everything to the net, play the body and play physical,” Marmiani said of Leonard’s message to the team at the first intermission.
Peabody added an insurance marker later in the third on the power play. Connor Purcell knocked home a rebound with assists going to Nico Manganiello and Muise, who picked up his second point of the night while contributing steady play on the Tanners’ specialty units.
Meanwhile, the defense tightened in front of Savage, limiting chances. The senior netminder finished with 25 saves while earning the win.
“It was a great game, as it always is against those guys,” Leonard said. “We’re very evenly matched and we knew that one play here or there could make the difference in the game. There weren’t many mistakes, it was just a hard-fought game both ways.”
CLEARING OUT THE CREASE
Winthrop caused fits for Peabody in its own end early on with an aggressive and effective forecheck. The Vikings swarmed to Tanners puckcarriers, flooding one side of the ice. “When we swung the puck around, they almost had three guys there,” Leonard explained. “So we made an adjustment to bring our winger down lower and that really got them chasing us deep. That helped us a little bit. We really just picked up our intensity and we got some momentum.”
The Tanners ventured onto the ice for the first time in 2010-11, a new look team without last year’s potent top line of Andrew Bucci, Matt Rodgers and Derrik Pereira, who scored more than two-thirds of their goals last year. While Leonard realizes his team might not have a plethora of pretty goals like last year, he’s been preaching for his players to take care of business in front of the net to pick up the slack. “There aren’t a lot of goals left in that locker room,” Leonard quipped. “We work a lot on rebounds and crashing the net. That’s how we got a couple of our goals today.” Through one game, mission accomplished.
Winthrop, which opened with a 3-3 tie against No. 16 Wilmington on Monday, saw much of the same in game No. 2. Had the Vikings cashed in on some of their opportunities, they might be sitting pretty with two wins right now. It’s clear the Vikings are a talented team with Leblanc and defenseman Jake Rand exhibiting some eye-popping talent against Peabody. It just comes down to execution. “I don’t want to keep saying it’s early in the year,” Dunbar said. “These are huge games, in my eyes, they’re four-point games, especially early in the season.” Odds are they’ll be right there with Peabody in the thick of the Northeastern race.