ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Mansfield and Attleboro met for a New Year’s Day matinee at the New England Sports Village to not only kick off a new year but also the start of league play. In a game filled with chances at both ends of the ice, one goal proved decisive and made for a happy start to 2020 for the Hornets.
Cam Page scored with 10:52 remaining in the game and Jake Lund added an empty net goal in the final minute to secure Mansfield a 2-0 victory. Senior goalie Sean McCafferty made 23 saves to record his second straight shutout and he was matched save-for-save by Attleboro sophomore Nick Piazza, who made 30 stops to keep the Bombardiers in the game to the end.
“It took us a while,” said Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini. “Their goalie played phenomenal. His rebound control was great. He was poised, he didn’t get flustered. We had good looks, we had shots, but we didn’t get enough people to the front of the net.”
Despite coming out with a loss, Attleboro coach Mark Homer was proud of the effort that his team put in, particularly in the defensive zone.
“In order to get to the next level, you have to be able to compete with the bigger teams in the league and I thought we did that today,” he explained. “They would have control in the zone and then there’d be a push back. The kids coming out of a game like this gained a lot of confidence, especially our defense. They know that they’re that close.”
Kevin Belanger had the game’s first chance when he got behind the Attleboro defense just 40 seconds into the game, but Piazza stayed with the puck and made a big pad save. Sam Flynn forced McCafferty into a save with a shot from the high slot and McCafferty stopped the rebound as well.
The best chance of the first period came with four minutes left. Joseph Troiano raced down the left wing and centered the puck to Page, but again Piazza stood tall to stop the close-range effort.
“That has been our struggle the past few games, coming out of the gates,” said Balzarini about the lack of clear chances in the opening period. “I thought everyone’s first few shifts were good and then we just kind of stopped for whatever reason. We stopped moving our feet and we started trying to make the more difficult plays rather than the easy play.”
Things picked up in the second, as both teams had flurries of attacking zone play and created numerous scoring chances.
Mansfield started the period on the front foot. On the power play, Troiano had a chance from the slot that was blockered aside and seconds later Ben Ierardo set up Mark DeGirolamo, but Piazza flashed a pad to deny the opening goal.
Freshman Aidan Dryjowicz nearly broke the deadlock when he stole a puck in the neutral zone and skated in alone but his shot was wide of the net. Ryan Morry kept a puck alive on the boards to set up Liam McDonough at the point, but Morry was unable to get a clean tip at the post. Dryjowicz and Morry had breakaway opportunities just seconds apart, but McCafferty stopped both.
With two minutes left in the second, Braedon Copparini and DeGirolamo both had shots from the edge of the crease but in both cases Piazza made sure the puck didn’t get through.
“He’s the type of kid that we don’t have to say too much to him,” said Homer about Piazza. “He’s fundamentally sound. He’s making better and better decisions. Having him back there, we know that most shots we’re going to have a good chance of stopping the puck.”
Three penalties in the final 23 seconds of the second gave Mansfield more than 90 seconds of 4-on-3 to start the third period and the Hornets used it to build momentum. Belanger had a good early chance when he drove off the left wing boards and forced Piazza into a good kick save. Page teed up Chris Jenkins for a backdoor one-timer but he hit the side of the net.
“There were a few chances where we just forced pucks into the middle rather than using our point and regrouping,” said Balzarini about finding ways of turning zone time into more goals. “We’ll start with getting the ‘D’ more active.”
Attleboro almost stunned the Hornets with a shorthanded break. Dryjowicz gained the zone and passed it to Sean Marshall, but his backhand try slid just wide of the post. Owen Dryjowicz nearly put the Bombardiers in front a minute later with a clean breakaway, but McCafferty was able to sprawl and get a toe to the shot and keep it out.
The breakthrough finally came on the power play. Belanger and Page had a nice passing sequence and Page found space right in front of goal for a one-timer into the corner that gave Piazza no chance.
Owen Dryjowicz was an inch from tying the game two minutes later. On the power play, he lined up a shot from the point that McCafferty never saw but that struck the bar and caromed to the corner. Jake Ward sprung Morry up the boards for a rush with three minutes to go, but again the shot was saved and the rebound covered up after a scramble.
After Attleboro pulled the goalie for an attacking zone face-off, Mansfield put the game away. Lund flicked the puck into the empty net from just outside the blue line to seal the 2-0 win.
“They’re creating the opportunities and I think once they pocket one and they figure it out then I think more of those are going to go in,” said Homer. “I like the fact that we’re getting those opportunities. We were penetrating and I saw forwards going to the net. These guys aren’t afraid to go to the dirty parts of the ice.”
Mansfield (3-1-1) will try to make it four wins in a row when the Hornets travel to Shrewsbury on Saturday. Attleboro (2-2-1) will try to carry its performance into Saturday night’s visit from Canton.