WALPOLE, Mass. – Goals are at a premium in league games this season and that remained the case when Mansfield/Oliver Ames hosted defending Hockomock champion Franklin at Rodman Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Amanda Lewandowski scored against the run of play in the second period and Gabby Colace made 25 stops to preserve a 1-0 victory for the Panthers in a game in which they were kept on the back foot for the first 30 minutes.
“Definitely a slow start, but we know that every Hockomock League game is going to be like this,” said Frankin coach Margie Burke. “We’re not going to put a lot of pucks on the net this year. We’re going to have to count on good defense and a few lucky breaks.”
The Warriors came flying out of the gates, taking advantage of their team speed to put Franklin on its heels and force the Panthers to defend for long stretches. After Maggie McCaffrey got an early chance on goal for Franklin, MOA started to step on the gas. Tess Luciano started it with a shot from the right circle and Alex Ledin let fly with a slap shot from the high slot that Colace stopped.
With four minutes remaining in the first Reese Pereira managed to get to the front of the net and get a tip from close range. The puck came back around to Ledin and she sent her shot from the slot just wide of the post.
Franklin had been forced back into a shell for much of the period, but did manage a late flurry of chances on the other end. Lewandowski was the catalyst as he forced Jessica Widdop (17 saves) into a stick save from a tight angle and after Gina Vignone threw one at net she forced a blocker stop while falling down.
The hosts were relying on their defensemen to create offensive chances, with Emma Pereira, Julia Muttart, Megan O’Hara, and Melissa Shanteler all getting looks from the point. Vignone and Gianna Cameron led the Franklin defense in trying to clear out any rebounds from the crease.
“They really played well, they blocked shots, they kept their heads up, they didn’t panic against the boards when they were pressured by two players,” MOA coach Roy Bain said about his blue line corps. “I can’t be upset with the way that anyone in that locker room played.”
MOA held an 11-6 edge in shots after the first and the momentum continued following the short breather between periods. Ledin again got a good look at net that went off Colace’s blocker and straight into the air. Cameron cleared before Reese Pereira could get a stick on the loose puck.
“We had a lot of the zone time, we were breaking out as we want to, and their game plan became obvious early, which was to crash the ‘D’ and pinch on the wings,” said Bain. “The goaltender gave up a lot of rebounds but their defense is very responsible in front of their net and stopped us from getting a lot of follow-up chances.”
Libby Carter sent a warning to the Warriors when she got free on a defensive zone turnover only to have Widdop make a big pad save. The breakthrough came three minutes into the second. Vignone flipped a high pass towards goal. Lewandowski managed to bring it down right on the edge of the crease, kicking it to her stick and sliding it past Widdop’s pad for a 1-0 lead.
“That goal tonight, it was a kick, a drop, and a reach,” said Burke. “It was like a soccer or field hockey goal but not an ice hockey goal. I tell them all the time that ugly goals count the same as pretty goals and ugly wins count the same as pretty wins.”
There were more chances for the Warriors to try and even things up in the second, as MOA outshot the Panthers 10-4 in the period and had a four-minute power play, but Lily O’Brien’s shot from the right circle was an example of how Franklin kept the middle of the ice clear.
It was clear that Burke spent the second intermission emphasizing the need to get on the attack, as the third period was by far the best that Franklin played in the offensive zone.
Burke said, “Absolutely, we talked about how everything in the first two periods was a reach and a poke but no body. You have to reach in with your stick and then with your body. They got more physical for sure.”
Lewandowski continued to be a thorn in MOA’s side. She skated behind the net and fired a pass all the way out to Vignone at the point for a shot through traffic that Widdop saved, and then stopped the rebound effort as well. Freshman Shaw Downing had an effort from the blue line that Lewandowski managed to tip in front but Widdop again stayed tall to stop.
The Warriors kept pushing for an equalizing goal, but Franklin continued to hold them at bay. Colace came up with a huge glove save on a blast by Emma Pereira from the edge of the left circle. It was the last good look for the home team.
“It’s tough when you lose by a goal but you can’t be upset that you lost by a goal because every single person played their heart out,” Bain said. “We played great, they were just one goal better.”
Franklin (2-2-1) will face a battle against the first league champion, Canton, on Wednesday. Mansfield/Oliver Ames (3-4-1) will have a short turnaround to try and end its three-game losing streak when it hosts Stoughton on Sunday.