ATTLEBORO, Mass. – For two periods, the Mansfield Hornets boys hockey team controlled the game, finally solving North Attleboro senior goalie Ryan Warren in the final seconds of the second period.
And after that, Mansfield turned to their own netminder, junior Sean McCafferty, to thwart a furious comeback attempt from the Rocketeers in the third period, resulting in a 2-0 decision for the visiting Hornets.
“That was a great game. North Attleboro is relentless, they really are, in all aspects of the game,” said Mansfield coach Michael Balzarini, who earned his 100th career win with the result. “[North Attleboro] got better period by period, they just kept coming and coming. But this was a team win, we played as a team tonight. And Sean McCafferty played out of his mind. His rebound control was great, he was phenomenal.”
Balzarini previous had successful stints at Dover-Sherborn and Milford before coming to Mansfield two seasons ago.
A dominant first period saw the Hornets skate to an 8-1 advantage on shots on goal, but no advantage on the scoreboard. While North Attleboro asserted itself more in the second frame, the Hornets still had the edge in play and shots (19-8).
Warren denied Mansfield sophomore Matty Copponi in the first period on a nice backhand attempt with a sprawling pad save. The senior goalie kept senior Jack Garland off the board six minutes into the second on a nice chance at the back post, made a terrific stop on a one-timer from senior Chris Copponi with 7:30 to go in the second, and then gobbled up a hard slap shot off the stick of junior Joseph Troiano.
It wasn’t until the 20th shot, with less than 10 seconds to go in the second period, that the Hornets struck.
North Attleboro had its first power play of the game with 2:43 left in the second period but couldn’t generate any serious scoring chances. Mansfield capitalized on the momentum gained from the kill and took the lead with 8.4 seconds left to go in the frame.
Chris Copponi got the play going, forcing a turnover in the attacking zone with a hit along the boards. The puck popped to senior Brad Grant and his blast was knocked over the net by Warren (26 saves). Garland was first to the puck, he connected with Matty Copponi, who quickly fed older brother Chris right in front for the goal.
“I thought we controlled the play for the most part but getting that goal was huge, with only nine seconds or so left, it was huge,” Balzarini said. “It helped put the momentum our way. We knew they would come out hard in the third period.”
For North Attleboro, it was a tough goal to swallow after just having a power play and an improved period over the first.
“The minute, minute and a half after a power play is so important and we have to tighten that up,” said North Attleboro head coach Ben McManama. “It’s a crucial part of the game. After a power play and the end of a period, one of the most important times in a game. We just have to get better there.”
Despite giving up a late goal int he second, North Attleboro came out flying in the third period, putting 15 shots on frame. Just seconds into the period, the Rocketeers were testing McCafferty, who was clearly up for the challenge.
North senior Anthony Zamiello found senior Justin Moccia in the slot for an open wrist shot but McCafferty turned it away. The Rocketeers earned another power play and had a big chance off the stick of junior Jeff Baker but McCafferty knocked it down and stood tall on a pair of rebound chances.
Just after the power play expired, the Rocketeers had one of their best chances when Zammiello and senior Todd Robinson found themselves alone in front of the net, and a pass from the former to the latter led to a one-timer in close but McCafferty made an amazing stop to keep the puck out.
“He stepped up tonight — he was calm, he wasn’t frantic, he was in the zone the entire game,” Balzarini said of McCafferty. “Coming off of the loss against Canton, I thought he really elevated his game tonight.”
Mansfield couldn’t capitalize on a power play attempt with 9:16 to go, and was whistled for a trip with 5:46 to go to put the hosts back on the man-advantage. The Hornets were whistled for another penalty 44 seconds into the advantage, giving North a 5-on-3 for 1:17.
But one save for McCafferty and a terrific individual defensive play from senior Coleman O’Brien canceled the power play chance for the Rocketeers. With just under three minutes to go, North Attleboro sophomore Tyler Sarro made a nice read on a clearance attempt, intercepting the pass to go in alone on net but whistled his shot wide of frame.
Junior Dennis Morehouse had another big chance with a minute to go on a loose puck at the back post but he couldn’t get the puck past McCafferty (25 saves).
With just under a minute to go, North Attleboro had an attacking zone faceoff but Matty Copponi won it back to Troiano, who alertly flipped the puck out into the neutral zone and Chris Copponi won the foot race and tapped it into the empty net to go up 2-0 with 50.9 to go.
“We’re trying to get better starts,” McManama said. “When our guys are going and we’re forechecking hard, we’re a very good team. But we’re not seeing it for 45 minutes, we’re seeing it spurts. It’s something we know about but we’re working about.
“We have to be tougher in front of the net, we have to bear down. We’re still not going at 100 percent in front of the net, that’s how goals are scored. It doesn’t have to be pretty.”
Mansfield boys hockey (2-1 Hockomock, 8-2 overall) concludes its three-game road trip on Saturday when it travels to Aleixo Arena to take on Taunton at 2:00. North Attleboro (2-1 Hockomock, 4-5 overall) returns to action at the New England Sports Village on Saturday against King Philip at 4:30.