TAUNTON, Mass. – Foxboro went into the first intermission leading by a goal, but as the Warriors came out of the locker room for the third period, they found themselves trailing by three and in need of a reaction. Despite Foxboro dominating the first 10 minutes of the third period, Taunton remained in control of a three-goal advantage and seemed to be skating to a big two points.
Those last five minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game at Aleixo Rink turned into a wild ride.
Foxboro scored three times and Taunton had a breakaway saved by backup goalie Jack Spinney. Ronnie McLellan’s tip with just 37.8 remaining on the clock, his fourth goal of the game, salvaged a 5-5 tie for the Warriors and sent both teams home with a point.
“We definitely showed a lot of character in the third period,” said Foxboro coach Mark Cedorchuk. “We just kept coming at them and our guys were hungry. We felt like it was just a matter of time until we got pucks to the net and got them through.”
The third period started with the Warriors on the power play and an early penalty on Taunton added more fuel to Foxboro’s momentum. Eoin Reager danced around three Tigers on the left wing, but was unable to beat Taunton goalie Sean Bunker (21 saves) five-hole. Bunker also had to quickly backpedal and make a blocker save when Sebastian Ricketts got a tip in front that nearly looped into the net.
While Foxboro was dominating the third (outshooting Taunton 13-5 in the period), the hosts still seemed pretty comfortable. That changed with 5:07 to play. Kirk Leach was given loads of time on the puck in the high slot. He waited, looking for a pass, before turning and firing a wrister into the top corner on the stick side.
Suddenly, the Warriors had life. McLellan nearly got his third goal of the day with a shot through the five-hole but Brady Nichols was able to clear the puck off the line. Less than 10 seconds later, McLellan completed his hat trick to bring Foxboro within one.
Nichols was close to scoring his fourth goal and putting the game away only for Matt Grace to clear his shot away from the far post. With 90 seconds to play, Taunton had a golden opportunity to seal the points when Michael Albert got behind the defense. He deked and went to his backhand and tried to slide the puck through the five-hole, but Spinney stayed low and made a huge save.
Taunton coach Kris Metea said, “Mike tried to go five-hole and he had him, which is where you want to go on that big of a goaltender, but it was a big save by the goalie and that was definitely a turning point.”
About a minute later, that save turned out to be even more important. Reager sent the puck on net and McLellan was in the right spot to redirect the shot just inside the far post, stunning the home crowd.
“Ronnie is such a smart player,” said Cedorchuk. “He just works his tail off. His competitiveness is second to none. I knew when that first one got through it was just a matter of time.”
Foxboro took the lead midway through the first period. Leach created the opening with a rush down the right side and his pass into the middle was one-timed by McLellan off a stick in front and past Bunker. The lead lasted less than two minutes, as Taunton responded on the power play. Nathan Fernandes passed the puck out from behind the net to Nichols, who crept in to the left face-off dot and smashed a one-timer past Foxboro starting goalie Espen Reager (14 saves).
Dylan Pothier worked an opening for Ricketts to have a shot on goal but Bunker made the stop. Then Leach thought he had scored and the one official ruled his shot a goal, but after a discussion it was (correctly) ruled to have come back off the post. The Warriors would go into the break with the lead after McLellan tipped in a shot by Jack Watts on the power play with 1:23 left in the first.
The second period was completely dominated by the Tigers, who outshot Foxboro 15-5 in the frame and scored four times without response.
Metea was asked if he had a special team talk before that period and he replied, “You’re right there, just keep doing what you’re doing, let’s create turnovers, get into transition, and when our power play is out there we’ll take advantage. Nothing really special, just stick to our system and we’ll be right back in the game.”
On the power play, Nichols had a shot from the point kicked aside and Camden Faria’s rebound was sent wide. The puck was kept in at the far boards and worked back behind the net again. Jack DeMoura passed it to Nichols, who had moved into the same position as he scored from in the first. This time he took a touch and roofed his shot just under the bar.
“Our power play allows him to slip into that open position,” said Metea. “He knows how to read where he is and our center coming from behind the net finds him pretty well. He deserves the hat trick.”
Albert, who is now only two points shy of 100 for his career, nearly put Taunton in front with a close-range tip only to have Espen Reager make a pad stop. The goalie was helpless to deny Albert’s next scoring chance. Shorthanded, he stole the puck in the neutral zone, shrugged aside a defender against the far boards, and then cut inside across the crease. Albert lifted his backhand to make it 3-2.
Reager, the reigning league MVP, has been outstanding this season, keeping the Warriors in games against some of the best teams in the Hock. Saturday was a struggle and two goals in 12 seconds would be the end of his day. First Nichols completed his hat trick with a wrist shot from a couple feet inside the blue line and then Albert got his second with a quick shot from the slot.
“The second period was one of the worst periods we’ve played all year,” Cedorchuk admitted. “We just weren’t getting to loose pucks. They got in a couple of good shots that normally our goalie makes saves on but he didn’t tonight. It happens. He can’t be great every night. I know it hits home with him, so I know he’ll rebound from it.”
Trailing 5-2 heading into the third was a big hill to climb, which only got higher as the time wore on, but the Warriors managed to stick with the plan and managed to fight their way back into the game. Taunton will rue the missed opportunity to get a win.
“We didn’t do what we needed to do,” said Metea. “You can’t lay off the gas and expect good things to happen when you make mistakes like that.”
Taunton (4-8-2) will be at home for the next four games, starting with a visit from Stoughton on Wednesday. Foxboro (4-4-4) faces an important visit from Attleboro on Wednesday in a game that both teams will need for their playoff hopes.
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