FOXBORO, Mass. – Chris Copponi’s shot was scuffed. The forward barely making contact with the puck just outside the right circle, but enough contact was made to redirect it past several sliding North Attleboro players trying desperately to block the Mansfield junior’s attempt at a power play goal.
Arnold’s goal with five minutes remaining in the third period turned out to be the game-winner for the Hornets, who held on to beat North 3-2 in Saturday night’s league encounter at the Foxboro Sports Center.
“He whiffs and it still gets through, but we’ll take it,” said Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini outside the locker room after the game. “We’ve been working on our power play because we knew they’d be a tough opponent from the first time we played them (a 4-1 North win in the season opener) and we were just patient. Yeah, it was a misfire, but we’ll take it.”
The Hornets converted on two-of-five power play opportunities in the game, including the game-tying goal in the second period and the eventual winner in the third. Arnold’s goal came on the third power play chance for the Hornets in the final period.
“Penalties are part of the game,” said first-year North coach Ben McManama, “but we’re getting too many lazy penalties where we’re playing defense with our sticks and not our feet. It was a game where we were in it but we shot ourselves in the foot.”
He added, “We also have to have more energy all game. We’re not having a consistent effort and that’s hurt us.”
There was no lack of energy from the Hornets at the start of the game. Mansfield came out flying in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, part of what has made this one of the league’s top rivalries in the last few seasons.
Freshman Justin McIvor created an early scoring chance with a big hit on Will Yeomans on the half-board. The puck popped loose to Copponi for a one-timer from the slot, but Warren (21 saves) stood tall to stop it. Warren then came up with a big pad save to rob Jake Lund in the slot and then blocked the follow-up effort too.
“The first period has been a struggle all year because we’ve come out flat,” Balzarini explained. “We played Stoughton on Wednesday and we scored three goals in the first period and that was the stresser during practice on Friday to come out with intensity.”
The Hornets made the good start count. Senior defenseman Tyler Oakley jumped up to join the attack, skating right down the middle of the North defense. His first shot was saved but he collected the rebound and finished. It was the first of two goals and three points out of the senior defensemen in the game.
“That’s why they where the ‘C’ on their jerseys,” said Balzarini of Oakley and Arnold. “They’re both really good captains, really good leaders and for those guys to step up not only on the ice but off the ice has been huge for us.”
With 7:11 left in the first, a fire alarm went off, momentarily forcing the stands to empty and the teams to head back to the locker rooms. It also stole the momentum from the hosts and allowed North the chance to regroup.
Drew Wissler had North’s first good scoring opportunity when he caught Mansfield up ice and found space in the left circle, but his shot was saved by Hornets goalie Sean McCafferty. The Rocketeers tied the game two minutes later, with only 25.1 on the clock, when Wissler fed the puck to Anthony Zammiello for a shorthanded breakaway and the junior went five-hole for the score.
“Before I could even have a chance to talk to them, they knew that they didn’t come out ready,” said McManama of the fire alarm break. “We’ve had a lot of bad starts this year and it really needs to change. The team is aware of it, but we just need to suck it up and come out ready to play.”
North took its first lead early in the second period. Wissler flew down the left side again, opened his body and unleashed an unstoppable shot over the shoulder of McCafferty and just inside the top corner.
The lead lasted six minutes before Mansfield responded with a power play goal of its own. Oakley lined up a blast from the point that Warren could only parry. The puck fell to Cullin Anastasia and he deposited it into the open net.
The Hornets had the chance to get back in front early in the third but Patrick McCafferty saw his shot carom off Warren’s mask and off the boards behind the net. After Arnold scored, defenseman Nick Levine nearly got into the act for the Hornets but Warren again made an important close-range save.
With time running down and North scrambling for an equalizer, Jason McNeanyhad a tap in at the back post that went wide of an open net and Nick Raneri had a shot in the final minute that was kicked aside at the post.
“The penalties in these games disrupt the flow, so things may be going our way but a penalty for or against if we don’t capitalize changes the whole momentum of the game,” said McManama. “A good hockey team doesn’t get affected by these things, but we’re not there yet. We’re going to get there, but we’re just not there yet.”
Mansfield has now won two in a row and Balzarini is hoping the Hornets can build off a strong week. He said, “The momentum was ours from Wednesday to today and I’m hoping it continues [at practice] on Monday and Tuesday.”