‘We told the kids that the referees weren’t calling anything and they did a good job of staying under control.’ – Billy Graves, North Middlesex hockey coach
HIGH SCHOOL HOCKEY
North Middlesex 5
GROTON — Just call them butter because the North Middlesex hockey team is clearly on a roll.
The Patriots, who started the season 1-2-1, improved to 8-3-1 with a hard-fought 5-3 win over Littleton at Groton School on Saturday night.
The game had a number of different looks to it. There were times when North Middlesex appeared too strong for the Tigers. There were sequences when Littleton more than held their own. When the smoke had finally cleared, the Patriots scored the final two goals of the game to prevail.
Joel Reed and Mike Cunha also came up big for the Patriots with a goal and an assist each. Mike Mercurio added a goal, Braden Boundy two assists, and Chad Stebbins a single assist.
“Littleton is a spoiler team and they came to play tonight,” said North Middlesex coach Billy Graves. “We built a lead and then we allowed them to get back into it. But we played three lines to their two, and I think our depth wore them down in the third period.”
It was obvious to all in attendance that the men in stripes allowed the boys to play and the game was a physical affair. North MIddlesex totally dominated over the first seven minutes, getting all 12 shots on goal, with two of them finding the net.
Just 52 seconds later, McCann scored his first of the game, assisted by Boundy and the game had the look of a rout as Littleton had failed to muster any offense and was struggling to get out of their own end.
But all that changed when Devin Crory intercepted an errant clearing pass and fired a wrist shot past North Middlesex goaltender Dan Brown (15 saves in the game) to slice the lead in half.
Just 1:06 later, the Tigers drew even on a pretty goal. Nick Pickering sent a shot on the ice from the blue line that was perfectly deflected in front by Tom Taylor past a helpless Brown, and suddenly it was 2-2.
Littleton goaltender Danny Schneider kept the game even with a brilliant save at 12:40. Mercurio filtered a pass in front to Ryan Baldinelli, who changed the flight of the puck with a deflection, only to see Schneider rob him.
Brown preserved the lead with a big stop with 15 seconds left. Bryan Takvorian stole the puck and fired a hard slap shot that Brown got a forearm on and deflected over the cross bar.
North Middlesex took a 3-2 lead to intermission, owning a 21-6 edge in shots on goal.
Littleton played much better in the second period and owned an 8-6 edge in shots on goal.
McCann made a quality defensive play at the five minute mark, sliding to break up a two-on-one rush by the Tigers.
Brown made a big stop at the nine minute mark with a kick save off a hard wrist shot by Chris Austermann, but the Tigers netted the equalizer 30 seconds later when Dan Richter tucked a rebound into the net from close range.
North Middlesex wrested momentum back and controlled play over the final 15 minutes, outshooting Littleton 11-5.
Schneider answered the call early, stopping Cuhna’s testing shot from close range, but Reed put the game on ice at 2:38 when he tucked a backhander inside the right post to make it 5-3. Cunha earned an assist on the goal.
The hard-hitting Malcolm sent a calling card 30 seconds later with the check of the game against Richter at the blue line.
The North Middlesex defense of McCann, Jon Malcolm, Boundy and Jason Carmichael limited Littleton’s scoring opportunities the rest of the way. Brown’s best stop came at 7:30 when Matt Bohan fired a tough backhander after a faceoff.
Schneider gave his team a chance to mount a comeback with a pair of outstanding saves.
At 5:45, Ben Roose stole the puck and fired a hard wrist shot that Schneider deflected over the cross bar with his glove.
At ten minutes, a point blank shot by Stebbins was denied by the Littleton netminder, who made 33 saves in the game.
“Brendan McCann and Joel Reed played strong games for us,” said Graves. “We told the kids that the referees weren’t calling anything and they did a good job of staying under control. We made some nice passes in the game and that is something we have been working on.”