NORTH BILLERICA, Mass. _ Shots on goal has to be one of the most over inflated statistics in the game of hockey. By all accounts, does it really matter how many shots a team puts on net if the majority of them don't reach the back of it?
Wayland learned that lesson Tuesday night. The Warriors peppered Watertown goaltender Anthony Busconi all game long, registering 34 attempts on the senior. Yet only one got past the veteran netminder. The Warriors, on the other hand, had a significantly less amount of shots, but made the most out of them as they went on to prevail 4-1 in the Division 3 North semifinal at Chelmsford Forum.
No. 7 Watertown (13-3-7) now moves into the district final where it will face eighth-seeded Bedford (13-6-3) back here on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Bedford edge Weston 3-2 in the other semifinal contest.
"Tonight we capitalized," Raiders head coach Mike Hayes said. "We've been struggling with that a little bit of late but tonight our kids went really hard towards the net. They did a really good job. We kept two guys high to pick off passes and then we just tried to get to the net as much as we could."
Busconi was highly instrumental in this victory, coming up with a number key saves and minimizing second opportunities for the sixth-seeded Warriors, who complete their season at 14-6-3. Wayland won the North title a year ago before falling to Hanover in the state semifinal. During last year's postseason run, the Warriors squeezed out an overtime win over Watertown in the semifinal round. In the same scenario this year, it was the Raiders who earned a bit of redemption.
With this tilt deadlocked 1-1 after the first 15 minutes, nothing was witnessed to make either team think one was more dominant than the other.
In the opening frame, Watertown had put up seven shots before Wayland recorded its first. Ironically, that initial one resulted in a goal as Warriors all-time leading scorer Nick Morgan, a senior, tipped in a Lucas Bastarache shot in front of the net coming at 6:04. It was the forward's 25th goal of the season.
Wayland's lead would be short-lived however. Two minutes later, junior Nick Martino slid down the right side and roofed a shot over Andrew Ludwig to knot things up.
The Warriors tried to answer the bell early in the middle frame. The offense began to spike as Wayland repeatedly carried the puck into the Raider zone. Several quality shots came Busconi's way, but all were corralled. Then, taking a page from Wayland's book, Watertown waited until 4:22 before taking its first shot in the period and ended up making it count. Tyler Gardiner streaked down the right side virtually untouched, leaving defenders in his wake. The junior then made a cut inside the right circle towards Ludwig before lifting a backhand shot over the sophomore's catching glove to put the Raiders ahead to stay.
"Our kids deserved this," Hayes said. "They all work hard. Sometimes you get out-played but are able to sneak one in but I thought we earned this one tonight. We tried to lock Wayland down in the neutral zone and made them dump the puck a lot. We try to stretch teams out and get fast breaks out of it. I thought we were able to do that tonight."
For the remainder of the period, Busconi and the Watertown defense continued to stymie the Warriors' perpetual offensive attack, including killing off a late power play opportunity. As the horn sounded to end the second, the look on the Wayland players' faces told the story as utter frustration begun to settle in.
But the Warriors also knew they were down by just a goal and needed to open the third with a flurry to get back into it. Wayland started the third much like the way it did to begin the middle period -- staying aggressive. Yet no matter what they tried to do, nothing was getting through. As the Raiders continued to nurse their one goal advantage as the clock ticked down, it felt more like an eternity. Finally, they could breath a little easier after Gardiner redirected a Mike Giordano shot between Ludwig's pads at 10:50 to push Watertown's advantage to a pair.
"This was a very good test for us tonight, especially going up against a team that was suppose to be better this year than they were last year," Gardiner said. "I think we played good all game. We displayed good offensive and defensive pressure throughout. We locked up their wings and our goaltender really stood on his head tonight. This was a good game for all of us."
In the closing minute, Giordano scored on an empty netter to wrap this one up.
"This was a great senior class here," said Wayland head coach Rian Murray, saying goodbye to eight seniors who brought this program back from the depths. "I don't think Wayland has ever seen such a great senior class as this one. They'll all be greatly missed. We knew (Busconi) was good coming into the game. I think their goals against average was under two. It ended up being a dogfight but their goalie played great and deserves all the accolades. There was no quit in us and we told our kids to keep shooting and go to the net and good things will happen. But that kid just kept making saves so hats off to him and Watertown."