ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The parking lot was packed on Saturday afternoon, fans forced to make the trek up to the New England Sports Village from the street, and the stands were filled to the brim for a battle of neighbors. Bishop Feehan’s reaction after pulling out a 1-0 win over North Attleboro matched the atmosphere pulsating down from the crowd.
Feehan’s players swarmed each other at the final horn, while North players dropped to the ice in anger and frustration. This felt like a Div. 2 playoff game, not one being contested before Christmas with the teams having played only a handful of games between them.
“We did enough to win, but we’re fighting through back breaks,” said North Attleboro coach Ben McManama. “It’s tough. The kids are working hard, they’re good kids, so it’s harder for me to watch them have to go through that. We’re turning the page; it’s not where we start, but where we finish.”
Having had a week off between its opening game against Oliver Ames and its meeting with Feehan, North took a while to get its skates under it. Senior goalie Ryan Warren (26 saves) was on top of his game, however, and held the Shamrocks off the board during a dominant opening period.
Warren made nine saves in the first, while the Rocketeers managed only three on the other end. Just two minutes into the game, Warren was forced into a big pad stop to deny Ben Gaucher as North freshman defenseman Austin Comery chased back to hassle the Feehan forward.
With six minutes left in the first, Warren got a big helping hand from his defense. After Warren was knocked out of goal making a save, junior Jeff Baker reacted first to clear a loose puck off the line. Warren was caught wide of the goal in a mass of bodies and the puck went out to the point, Comery stepped in front of a goal bound shot to prevent the opening goal (in the process suffering an injury that forced him out of the game).
Feehan continued to attack and Gaucher had another chance with a tip on the edge of the crease but again Warren managed to get his pad across to make the stop.
“He was great,” McManama said of Warren. “That’s what we need from him for the rest of the season and I’m confident we’re going to get it from him.”
North’s first good scoring chance came early in the second when Dennis Morehouse dragged the puck through a pair of defensemen and was stopped from a tight angle. A minute later, the Rocketeers were positive that they had the lead. John Connolly got free in the slot and his shot clanged off a post and out towards the corner. North was sure that it hit the back of the net and everyone seemed to pause for a second but there was no signal from the officials.
“We did get the puck in the net, but they called it back,” said McManama, who was clear in his disdain for Saturday’s officiating. “It’s not right. It’s hard for our boys to work hard and compete when they really get the short end of the stick.”
Feehan had its fair share of chances to grab the lead as well. A minute into a penalty kill, North was given a major penalty, meaning 50 seconds of a two-man advantage and then more than four more minutes of power play to kill.
C.J. Botelho had a pair of chances, one saved by Warren and the other that he sent wide of an open net, and Jack Murphy’s shot from the point was redirected in front by Kevin Barrera but Warren managed to keep his pad on the ice to keep the shot out.
Surviving the long power play opportunity seemed to spark the Rocketeers into life. Jake Ebert had a good chance right after North got back to even strength and Will Yeomans had a shot from the point kicked aside. With 90 seconds left in the second, Todd Robinson backhanded a pass across ice to Connolly, who rode a check and managed to get a shot on net.
It was a good flurry for North in the attacking zone and foreshadowed a strong third period push. After being outshot 20-11 through the first two periods, North outshot Feehan 14-7 in the third.
McManama explained, “I think we have to do a better job getting pucks to the net. They did a good job blocking shots, but we’re trying to stickhandle it into the net instead of get it on net and go after the rebounds.”
Anthony Zammiello saucered a pass to Robinson on an odd-man rush and the senior forward forced Feehan goalie Rory Geraghty into a shoulder save. Connolly had another chance from inside the left circle but that was stopped too.
“It’s just because we spent the rest of the game in the box,” said McManama about the North attack in the third period. “It was nice to be able to play five-on-five for a little bit. The captains just talked about, we know what to do, we know we’re the better team, let’s just show it. We just ran out of time.”
Warren was forced into two big stops on the other end to keep the game scoreless and North broke up ice quickly with Justin Moccia forcing Geraghty (24 saves) into another stop. The chances kept coming for North, which was in control of the period, including a series of close calls on a power play opportunity with four minutes left.
But, with just 1:43 on the clock, Feehan managed to find one good scoring chance and made it count. Kevin Borah roofed his shot as he cut across the crease to give the Shamrocks the lead.
North had one more great chance when Robinson, despite Feehan going on the power play during a scrappy closing sequence, got behind the Shamrocks defense but Geraghty stood tall again and made a solid pad save to deny the breakaway and the opportunity for a tie.
North Attleboro (0-2) will be back on the ice on Thursday afternoon at Levy Rink when it opens the Burrillville (R.I.) Hockey Winter Classic against Cumberland (R.I.).