SPRINGFIELD - The North Middlesex Regional ice hockey team had been playing outstanding hockey during its impressive 10-game winning streak.
It's hard to believe, but the Patriots played even better in the Division 3A state title game Thursday night.
The confident and highly skilled Patriots put on a scoring clinic with five first-period goals - three in the first 2:11 of the game - and cruised to the program's third state title with a dominating 12-0 drubbing of Western Mass. champion Wahconah at the MassMutual Center in front of an announced crowd of 750.
"We accomplished our goals, for sure, this year," North Middlesex head coach Mike McCarthy said.
North Middlesex's two other state championships came in 1995 and 1998 - both in Division 3. In 1998, the Patriots beat Hanover, 3-1, and in 1995 they skated to a 6-3 victory over Coyle Cassidy.
"This feels good," said North Middlesex senior first-line center Danny McNamara, who scored had his first career four-goal game to power the Patriots. "All us seniors worked for four years and it's good to finally get it. We worked hard for it all season. We put in the effort in the summer, so we worked hard for it."
Wahconah's 13-game winning streak came to an abrupt end.
North Middlesex, which had a high scoring output of nine goals twice this season, saw 13 players register at least one point, while seven had multiple-point games.
McNamara led the way with four goals and one assist, while Dylan Conner and Ryan McCarthy (assist) each had two goals. Brian Walter checked in with a goal and an assist. Josh Miller was the high-man in helpers with three, followed by P.J. Dupre and Miles Massidda with two each.
"That was huge," McNamara said about how easily the Pats found the back of the net. "We didn't expect it. We didn't know how they were, but we came out swinging and established our forecheck and set the tone for the rest of the game."
Star goalie Ryan Twomey, who had to make only six stops before giving way to the backup goalies early in the third period, said he tried to stay focused as his offense put on an amazing scoring display.
"They were outside shots, so it was probably one of the more easy games I've played," said Twomey, who will attend Nichols College in the fall. "Once we got our first goal, I knew we were going to have a big game.
North Middlesex finished its unforgettable season with an 11-game winning streak for a 19-3-2 overall record.
"I didn't expect this at all," said Twomey, also reflecting back on when the Pats won only three games during his freshman season. "I thought it was going to be a good, close game like the Lunenburg game. When we put the pucks in quick, it gave us more confidence throughout the game."
In a completely dominant first period, North Middlesex peppered Wahconah goalie Roger Stedman with 15 shots to take a commanding 5-0 lead.
North Middlesex struck early - only 19 seconds in - and often with three goals in the first 2:11 of the game.
Senior first-line right winger McCarthy got the scoring frenzy started with a shot from the right circle that deflected off Stedman and flipped up and over the netminder and inside the far post. McCarthy's linemates McNamara and Miller assisted on the tally.
That goal certainly boosted North Middlesex's confidence.
"It lifted us pretty big," McNamara said. "It gave us a lot of momentum. We felt pretty good after that."
Only 20 seconds later, the Patriots attacked the Warrior defense and cracked Stedman, as McNamara ripped a shot that hit off the goalie and trickled across the goal line, assisted by Miller, a mere 39 seconds in.
Could the Pats have played any better in that opening period?
"In my eyes, yes, but not a better three minutes," McCarthy said. "The first three minutes, we jumped on them and that was it."
Before Wahconah knew what hit it, North Middlesex found the back of the net again. At 2:11, Walter and Dupre streaked into the Warrior zone, and Dupre's shot caromed off Stedman. The puck fluttered up and hit Walter's chest and went in as the large North Middlesex red, white and blue cheering section erupted into celebration.
The Pats weren't done yet.
Defenseman T.J. Melanson set up junior forward Devon Blanchard for North Middlesex's fourth goal at 4:10.
The clearl -dominant Patriots struck for four goals in a 4:10 span, then delivered again 6:22 later to claim a comfortable five-goal cushion headed into the first intermission.
On North Middlesex's fifth tally, Connor, a senior forward, took fees from Walter and Jay Cobleigh and lit the lamp at 10:32.
Wahconah trailed in shots, 15-4, and North Middlesex refused to let the Western Mass. champions get back into the state final.
"We never had a five-goal lead all year, except for a couple of games," Twomey said. "But in a state championship game, it definitely got us going. The feeling sets in a little earlier, so it's nice."
McNamara - small in stature but not in the heart and skill department - got his hat trick in the second period with back-to-back tallies for a 7-0 lead.
To start the middle period, McCarthy's shot was turned away by backup goalie Nico Romano, but McNamara - wide open in front - slammed in the rebound at 3:53.
On North Middlesex's first power play, Miller made a great pass from the side of the net to McNamara, who powered home a one-timer for his third tally of the night.
Mike Carson's heavy slap shot eluded Romano for North Middlesex's eighth goal at 13:27.
Early in the third period, Twomey was replaced by backup goalie Marc Frederick. Brandon Donohue replaced Frederick later in the final period.
"This is the best way I could have gone out," said Twomey, sporting an ear-to-ear smile with the state title medal around his neck. "Since my freshman year, it's been a huge jump and probably no one expected us to come away with a medal in my senior season."
North Middlesex - playing everyone that suited up - got additional goals by McNamara, Conner, McCarthy and Donnie Frederick in the third period.
The Pats, powered by the strong defense of Dupre, Massidda, Daigan Robichaud, Cobleigh and Melanson, allowed only 17 goals in the final 11 games of their championship season.
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