FITCHBURG -- The Wachusett Regional defense came to play in the Central Mass. Division 3 boys hockey semifinals against North Middlesex Regional.
The second-seeded Mountaineers -- after allowing eight shots on net in the first period -- tightened up and yielded only four shots in the final two periods to reach goalie Mike Putman, while senior Aidan Rolli potted two goals in a 3-1 victory over No. 3 North Middlesex Regional on Tuesday night at the Wallace Civic Center.
"Hats off to Wachusett, they were the better team tonight. No doubt about that," North Middlesex coach Mike McCarthy said.
North Middlesex, which defeated local rival Groton-Dunstable in double-overtime in a quarterfinal, finished its season 13-5-4.
"I'm very proud of my kids, this group and the season we had," McCarthy said. "I think 10 years from now they'll remember the double-OT winner against Groton and not so much this game. That's the hope, anyway."
Wachusett (16-4-4) advances to Sunday's 6 p.m. championship game against either Marlboro or top-seeded and unbeaten Shrewsbury at the Wallace Civic Center.
It was an action-packed first period that featured hard hits, great skill in the open ice and solid goaltending that resulted in a 1-1 draw after the first 15 minutes.
North Middlesex struck first only 1:48 in.
Defenseman Nick White flipped the puck high and out of the zone, and Cam Stairs picked it up just outside of the blue line and looked up the ice at Matt McCarthy.
Matt McCarthy, with no Wachusett defenseman around, collected the pass and went in on a breakaway, beating Putman for a 1-0 advantage.
But that would be it for the North Middlesex offense.
Putman held up nicely after the game's first goal, as the Wachusett goalie stoned Trent Costa on the post and Donnie Frederick on a one-timer in the slot.
"We had a chance to go up 2-nothing on a down-low play in front, and Putman made a great save," Mike McCarthy said.
Wachusett responded later for the equalizer, as Gaffney fired a shot that was turned away by North Middlesex goalie Joe Sheridan. But when Sheridan couldn't control the rebound, Liam Comeau was open on the far post and the forward banged home the rebound tally at 12:31.
Battling in front and working to pick up rebounds was Wachusett's plan of attack.
The middle period was completely dominated by the No. 2 seed.
In the second, Wachusett stiffened defensively, limiting the Patriots to only two shots in the period.
Luckily for North Middlesex, goaltender Sheridan was on top of his game to keep the contest within reach.
Sheridan's gigantic save against Shane Sullivan on a 2-on-1 break kept it a one-goal game with 1:48 left in the period.
Sheridan dazzled at times and made 24 saves.
"I thought that our goaltender kept us in it and gave us a chance," Mike McCarthy said. "He made a lot of big saves."
Before that, the Mountaineers had potted the go-ahead goal from Rolli.
Crashing the net paid off for Wachusett, as the puck got away from the North Middlesex goalie at 8:12. Sullivan and Comeau each fired shots on goal, but the third time was the charm as Rolli picked up a rebound and slammed the puck into the back of the net to give Wachusett a 2-1 lead.
Wachusett held a 16-10 shots-on-net advantage through two periods, and outshot the Patriots 9-2 in the second period.
"They played great tonight," Lane said. "That's just a phenomenal team defensive effort."
Wachusett's defense continued to give North Middlesex fits in the third period.
"When we dumped the puck they moved it up real quick and didn't allow our forecheckers to get in on them and limited our space," Mike McCarthy said. North Middlesex mustered only two shots in the third period. Rolli's empty-net goal at 14:46 put the Pats away for good.
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