FOXBORO, Mass. – Because of the snow that forced a postponement of Saturday’s game with Taunton, Mansfield had gone a week without taking the ice for a competitive game. It may have played a role in the Hornets getting off to a rough start against visiting Brockton on Wednesday evening at the Foxboro Sports Center.
Mansfield managed to shrug off the sluggishness, controlling play for the majority of the game, and pulling out a 2-0 victory thanks to a pair of goals by senior Joey Olsen that moved the Hornets to 4-3-1 on the season and extended their win streak to three games.
“It was definitely sluggish,” said first-year Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini of the slow start. “I thought we had two good days of practice but it didn’t translate to the game. We couldn’t get anything going. Granted we held them to three shots, but we weren’t mentally prepared.”
The Hornets struggled to get the puck moving from defense into the attack. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, until the final few minutes of the first when Mansfield strung together several chances to take an 8-4 lead in shots.
Freshman Chris Jenkins had the first real scoring opportunity for the hosts on a two-on-one with Cullin Anastasia, catching Brockton in a line change, but his shot was stopped by Adam Stagnone. The third line chipped in and brought some energy, nearly creating the opening goal when Adam Anastos fed Jaden Mezner in front only for Spagnone to again come through with the stop.
Jenkins had another chance when he dove forward to knock a bouncing puck on goal in the final minute of the first but the Hornets went into the intermission scoreless.
“We talked to them in between periods and said, this is not how we’re used to playing,” said Balzarini. “We had to switch some lines around…and guys had to get used to each other, but still no excuse.”
(The change in lines was forced by an off-ice injury to senior Chad Piotti, who was in a car accident this week that will cause him to miss the rest of the season. Piotti was at Wednesday’s game.)
Mansfield started the second period with a two-man advantage and it seemed to get the Hornets clicking with Matt Farragher, Jenkins, and Olsen each having chances. Shortly after the power play ended, the Hornets got the lead. Olsen was in the right place on the edge of the crease to backhand a loose puck under the bar (assisted by Jenkins and Farragher).
Four minutes later, a major penalty forced Mansfield to try and clear off four minutes of man advantage for the Boxers. Tony Rullo (19 saves) came through with a few clutch saves but the shots were mostly from the outside thanks in large part to the play of defensemen Tim Arnold and Tyler Oakley, who were both immense in limiting the Boxers to shots from the edges.
Balzarini explained, “It was huge. For the past week, we’ve changed our penalty kill and it’s worked to a ’T’. We wanted to be a little more aggressive, face the play a little more, keep them to the outside, and it was a huge four-minute kill.”
With three minutes left in the second, again just after the Hornets had a power play, Olsen popped up with his second of the night. The senior, who played last season with his club team, raced onto a puck through the middle, got a step on his defenseman, and roofed a backhand shot over Spagnone’s shoulder. Jenkins picked up his second assist on the play.
“I didn’t get a chance to coach [Joey] and didn’t know how good he was,” said Balzarini, who coached Milford prior to taking over the Hornets this season. “It doesn’t matter who his linemates are. He’s a grinder, he’s skillful, and he sees the ice really well. Him and Matt have been playing well together.”
In the third period, Mansfield sought to protect its two-goal lead and looked for the third that would seal the points. The Hornets outshot Brockton 13-5 in the period and but for the heroics of Spagnone, who robbed Mansfield on several great scoring opportunities, it could have been a much bigger win.
Farragher had his shot ricochet off the goalie’s mask and Anastasia saw his backhander from the slot kicked aside. Olsen had a bid for a hat trick denied as well. Meanwhile Rullo looked comfortable in goal for the Hornets and was largely untroubled in the third.
“We want to make sure that we’re not trying to get that third goal by costing a turnover,” said Balzarini. “I told them I didn’t want anyone being a hero and I wanted to play 5-on-5 hockey. We almost scored off the face-off, but we’ll take the two points.”
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