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Gardner 5

North Middlesex 3

FITCHBURG — Over their first six games this season, the only consistent thing about the North Middlesex hockey team has been that they have been inconsistent. The Patriots entered the season with high expectations as one of the favorites, but have plodded along due to the inability to string strong efforts together.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Patriots hosted always-tough Gardner at the Wallace Civic Center and played with fire, allowing the visitors to take control of the game. The Pats ended up getting burned when the Wildcats scored the final two goals to register a well-deserved 5-3 win.

North Middlesex, which fell to 2-3-1 for the season, turned in a sporadic effort as Gardner controlled play for long periods of time. The Patriots were slow to the puck, lacked energy and were outhustled and outskated by the Wildcats for much of the contest.

The Wildcats bounced right back and netted the game winner just 28 seconds later, Brett Casavant tapping a short shot into the net from outside the left post.

Gardner put the win on ice when a questionable penalty shot was called with 55 seconds left. Matt Belisle converted for the final tally of the game.

Gardner in control early

Gardner dominated the first period, pinning the Patriots in their end for vast periods of time. North Middlesex was called for a pair of penalties and did an outstanding job of killing them off, but the Wildcats broke the ice at 8:50 when Casavant took a pass from Mike Beaton, crossed the blue line and blistered a low slap shot past North MIddlesex goaltender Dan Brown, who made 27 saves in the game.

North Middlesex had done little offensively and had played on their heels, but the Patriots had their best scoring chance late in the period when Brendan McCann made a strong rush down left wing, cut towards the net and fired a low shot that was stopped by Flanagan.

The Patriots scored the equalizer just 30 seconds into the second period when Derek Knight netted a wrist shot from outside the right post, Schroth assisting.

But Gardner quickly regained control of the game and took the lead just 29 seconds later when Belisle snapped a wrist shot inside the right post to make it 2-1.

The Wildcats dominated play over the next 11 minutes, getting ten of the next 11 shots on goal, but the visitors couldn’t expand their lead due to solid play by Brown, and some poor finishing around the net. Brown’s best save came off a hard, low wrist shot by Casavant midway through the period, while their best chance came just after the 11 minute mark when they failed to take advantage of a loose puck in front of an open goal after a wild scramble in front of the net.

At that point, North Middlesex was on the short end of a 23-4 count in shots on goal, but the Patriots finally got going over the final 3:45 of the period, and once again tied the game up. McCann made it 2-2 when he fired a well-placed 30 foot wrist shot through traffic past Flanagan.

North Middlesex carried their momentum from the late stages of the second period and owned an edge in play over the first five minutes of the third period. Flanagan came up big at 5:30, stopping Jon Malcolm’s hard wrist shot and a subsequent rebound, and the Wildcats came down the ice and once again regained the lead when Lukas Paine took a pass from Eric O’Reilly, broke in alone and scored to make it 3-2.

Three minutes later, Brown kept his team within a goal with a brilliant save off a wrist shot by Jared Jalbert, after the Gardner forward had stolen the puck in front of the net.

Flanagan made 20 saves in the game. Gardner improved to 4-3 with the victory.

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