The Rocketeers skated with, and arguably outplayed, the top team in the Hockomock on Saturday before the Bulldogs grabbed a late winner. While North Attleboro didn’t win, it learned that they can play with top teams in the area when playing at the top of their game.
That confidence was on full display on Wednesday night in Franklin as the Rocketeers raced out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back, skating to a 5-2 decision over the Panthers.
“We’ve kind of compared ourselves to the 2001 Patriots,” said North Attleboro head coach Ben McManama. “They played the Rams in the regular season and they realized they could play, that they could hold their own. And it was about getting that next big victory and I think we got that today. Guys are realizing we’re good enough but we still have a lot to work on because we can’t rely on Ryan Warren giving us performances like that every game, it’s too much to ask for him.”
Despite the loss, Franklin clinched its eighth straight Kelley-Rex division title with other results around the league. The Panthers (6-6-4 overall) finish 5-2-2 in league play for 12 points, one ahead of both Mansfield and Oliver Ames. A division title also gives the Panthers a berth in the state tournament.
Senior Anthony Zammiello scored a hat trick to pace the offense, and senior Ryan Warren (29 saves) was terrific in net, helping North Attleboro record its first-ever win over perennial power Franklin.
“That one feels good,” McManama said. “Franklin was coming with everything, they were really working hard and Ryan Warren stood on his head. He absolutely kept us in that thing. But for the school, for the town, that’s the first time we’ve ever beat Franklin so we’ll definitely take it.”
Before gaining the lead, the Rocketeers had to withstand a strong push from the Panthers to begin the game, including a power play opportunity less than two minutes in. Warren set the tone for the night with a terrific save late in the man-advantage opportunity, denying a one-timer from Scott Elliott after a nice feed from junior Colin Hedvig.
North Attleboro took the lead a minute into its first power play opportunity. Just when it looked like the Panthers had killed it off, junior Jake McNeany snuck a shot from a tough angle into the net, giving the Rocketeers a 1-0 lead with one second left on the power play.
From there, the Rocketeers finished the period off strong. North Attleboro continued to apply pressure and found the back of the net less than a minute later. Senior Brendan McHugh pounced on a loose puck at the top of the circles and blasted a shot through traffic. The rebound fell to the stick of Zammiello and he tucked it in for a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
The Panthers once again came out with a lot of energy to begin the period and had another solid opportunity less than two minutes into the game. After a scrum in front, a North Attleboro defenseman covered the puck in the crease resulting in a penalty shot.
Warren was up to the task again, getting the pad to the post to stop a low shot to his left.
After a strong first five minutes, a turnover in the defensive zone hurt the Panthers. Zammiello was able to latch onto the turnover, deked past a defenseman and then slotted his shot into the back of the net for a 3-0 lead.
Warren turned aside two good Franklin chances a minute apart after the Big Red took a three-goal lead. First, it was against a rebound chance from CJ Spillane after a shot from Hedvig, and then it was a diving stop on Shane McCaffrey after Matt D’Errico put one on frame.
Franklin got on the board when it converted on its third power play of the game. The Panthers needed just 13 seconds as Joey Lizotte maneuvered his way past the North defense and slid a pass over to freshman Declean Lovett for an easy tap in to make it 3-1.
“I don’t think we handled taking the lead very well, especially in the second period, it was all Franklin that period,” McManama said. ”We were battling with some penalties, trying to get away from some of that old North Attleboro mentality. But we battled back, it was an up and down kind of game, and we got a couple of breaks but I’m really proud of the kids.”
North Attleboro started the third on the power play but couldn’t convert. The Rocketeers did get a break five minutes into the final frame and took advantage of their opportunity. On a breakout, a Franklin defenseman slipped, and Zammiello went in on a partial break, firing a wrist shot into the back of the net to make it 4-1.
“He finished his chances too,” said McManama about Zammiello. “He worked his butt off tonight, he worked from the drop of the puck for the entire game. He’s been an unbelievable captain for us this year. He’s the guy that I thought would be the guy to step up he did. Him and Ryan Warren really stepped up tonight.
Franklin went on a power play with 8:10 to go but it was the Rocketeers the found the back of the goal. After a pass trying to cycle in the offensive zone was missed, the puck came out of the zone, and Zammiello quickly grabbed onto it, skated in, and passed across to Todd Robinson who redirected the puck into the net for a 5-1 advantage,
Franklin added a power play goal when Spillane found Falvey, and the latter picked out a spot to make it 5-2.
North Attleboro boys hockey (6-2-1 Hockomock, 8-6-1 overall) finishes second in the Davenport division with 13 points and second overall in the Hockomock League. It marks the first time in league history that the top two teams in the league are from the Davenport. North continues its push for a playoff spot when it hosts Beverly on Saturday. Franklin hosts a talented St. Mary’s (Lynn) team on Saturday.