FITCHBURG -- Last Saturday, Lunenburg/Ayer-Shirley ice hockey coach Eric Short wasn't thrilled with his team in a tie against North Middlesex Regional.

Boy, what a difference a week makes.

Lunenburg got sparkling goaltending, solid defense and clutch scoring in a sound 3-1 Coughlin Conference victory over North Middlesex Saturday night at Fitchburg State University's Wallace Civic Center.

"Just an outstanding effort against a great team, probably one of the best in 3A," Short said. "They got the better of us for two periods last weekend and we were lucky to come back and tie.

Lunenburg captain Danny Baldino and North Middlesex captain Danny McNamara battle for the puck inside the faceoff circle during Saturday night’s game
Lunenburg captain Danny Baldino and North Middlesex captain Danny McNamara battle for the puck inside the faceoff circle during Saturday night's game at the Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / ED NISER

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We knew we were going to have to play our best for three periods and the kids just did that. I thought we played outstanding for three periods."

Short said last weekend's draw against the talented Patriots was a "wake-up" call to his team that they can't expect to walk over every opponent, and have to work hard to beat the top teams in the division.

The Lunenburg coach saw a total team effort on the ice Saturday night to keep the Blue Knights unbeaten at 10-0-2 overall and 5-0-2 in the conference.

"We got goals when we needed them from our top guys, excellent goaltending and great team defense," Short said.


"With the goaltender we have and the 'D' we have, if we limit the rebound, wide-open type shots and we play smart in our own end, we'll be tough to beat because we have guys like Tommy Wagner and Danny Baldino who step up game after game after game."

North Middlesex fell to 8-3-2 and 3-3-1.

"Lunenburg's had our number; we've tied them once and lost to them -- same as last year," North Middlesex coach Mike McCarthy said. "We go back to the drawing board and keep it positive. Come tournament time, if we show up, I like our chances. When we don't show up, we're not that good."

Wagner led Lunenburg with two goals, while linemate and playmaker Dan Baldino added two helpers.

"(Wagner) stepped up tonight, offensively and in the locker room," Short said. "We give a hardest-worker hard hat out after every game and he got it tonight."

Trailing 2-0 in the third period, the Patriots stormed the ice and eventually cut the deficit to 2-1, as P.J. Dupre walked in and beat talented Lunenburg goalie Alec McNamara on an unassisted goal 3:16 in.

North Middlesex continued to attack, but McNamara (28 saves) wouldn't be denied a victory in between the pipes. The Pats peppered McNamara with 13 third-period shots, including top bids by Justin Estrella, Josh Miller and Ryan McCarthy.

"The third period, we dominated the game, but we could only find one (goal) to put past Mr. McNamara," the North Middlesex coach said. "He played well tonight."

Unlike in its first meeting with the Patriots, Lunenburg came out flying in the opening period.

The Blue Knights played their typical hard-hitting style, while their skill work was also dominant.

Led by Wagner, who did everything but get the team water in between periods, Lunenburg finally broke through the defense and goaltender Ryan Twomey (24 saves) 10:14 in for the 1-0 lead.

Of course, the combination of Baldino to Wagner delivered for the Blue Knights.

Baldino glided into the Patriot zone and made a perfect centering pass to Wagner, who hammered a one-timer to beat Twomey stick-side for the game's opening goal.

Early in the game, Wagner went in on a breakaway, but fanned on a quality shot.

North Middlesex's Dylan Conner narrowly missed putting his team on the board with a backhand flip that came oh-so-close from going into the net.

Lunenburg outshot North Middlesex 13-7 in the first 15 minutes.

"They did what we did to them in the first period the last game," coach McCarthy said. "They came out and wanted the game more early on. I thought in the second and third that we took it to them."

North Middlesex came out more determined to start the second period. Unfortunately, it couldn't find an opening to beat McNamara -- one of the top goaltenders in Central Mass.

After two close-range shots by Danny McNamara were denied by the Lunenburg goalie, the Blue Knight offense counter-attacked seconds later.

On a Lunenburg rush down the ice, Twomey made a key save, but when he couldn't locate the puck at his skates, Kevin Cowdrey was there to jam home the rebound. Ryan Young assisted on Lunenburg's second tally at 4:16.

Miller and Ryan McCarthy each had solid wrist shots on net, but McNamara stopped both to take a shutout in the third period.

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