Taunton Bunkers Down to Beat North in D2 Playoffs

Taunton boys hockey
Taunton players celebrate Michael Albert’s game-tying goal in the second period against North Attleboro. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Coming into Sunday afternoon’s Div. 2 South preliminary round game, Taunton had never beaten North Attleboro. The Tigers had a couple of ties against the Rocketeers prior to joining the Hockomock League, but no wins. They found the perfect time to change that record.

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Behind a strong performance from senior goalie Sean Bunker (36 saves) and a pair of breakaway goals, Taunton came from behind for 2-1 victory at the New England Sports Village, overcoming North’s 37-14 edge in shots on goals.

“He played awesome,” Taunton coach Kris Metea said. “He has big game experience. He knows that no rebounds means no goals, and he controlled everything, he smothered everything, and got us whistles. He did everything we needed him to do.”

Bunker made 17 saves in the first period alone and had several memorable stops, including a diving glove save to rob Jack Connolly in the opening period, a big pad stop on a Dennis Morehouse breakaway with three minutes to play, and a flash of his glove to stop Will Yeomans in the final minute.

“There were a lot of pucks lying around that we’ve got put it in,” North coach Ben McManama said. “We’ve got to bear down, but that’s been us all year. We want the easy goals but we’ve got to work harder to get those dirty, greasy goals. I thought we played pretty well.”

North came out flying to start the game, putting 18 shots on goal in the first and using its size and physicality to keep the Tigers pinned back in the defensive zone. Matt McSweeney had a chance at the post after a puck rebounded off the back boards, but Bunker got his pad down to make the stop and to block the ensuing scrum.

After five minutes, the pressure paid off with the opening goal. Tyler Sarro drove down the right wing and got below the goal line before firing a pass to the edge of the crease where Brady Sarro was on hand to redirect the pass through the five-hole from point-blank range.

Taunton had a couple of chances in the first. Michael Albert had a shot from the right circle on a quick transition and Colton Scheralis had a pair of chances at the post that Nick Digiacomo (12 saves) was able to smother.

The Rocketeers thought they had doubled their lead with three minutes left in the period. Morehouse gained the zone and fired a shot towards goal that took a deflection to Connolly at the far post. The forward knocked the loose puck towards what appeared to be an empty net, only to have Bunker dive across and make the stop.

In the second period, North managed eight shots, but struggled at times to gain the zone. The Taunton defense looked more comfortable than in the first, although Metea said there were no significant changes between periods.

“We knew that in the first period we were going to have to weather the storm,” Metea explained. “We said, you’re in the game, just keep doing what you have to do, box it up, stay tight, wait for your opportunities. They stayed with it and it was awesome.”

With 11:32 left in the second, Taunton used its lone scoring chance of the period to tie the game. Connor McGrath flipped a puck out of the zone and the North defense struggled to control the bounce. Albert pounced and got a free skate at goal. Taunton’s leading scorer planted a shot just under the bar on the glove save to make it 1-1.

North had a flurry late in the period. Jeff Baker picked out Nick Longa right in front of goal, but Bunker made the pad stop. Jake McNeany was allowed to skate right down the slot but his chance went just wide and then McSweeney collected the loose puck and forced another big save from the Taunton netminder.

“They give us fits because they block shots, they do the right things, and they’re tougher in front of the net then we are,” said McManama. “That’s it. They were tougher in the dirty areas and my hat’s off to them. We’ve got to play through that better.”

Both teams had chances early in the third to try and grab the lead. North used the defensemen and threw bodies in front to try and cause problems for Bunker. On the other end, Digiacomo had to be quick with the blocker to stop a shot through a screen.

Connolly had a pair of chances for the Rocketeers. He drove behind the net and faked Bunker out to open space at the post, but the puck rolled off his stick as he went to score. Sam Clarke then set Connolly up inside the right face-off dot but he sent his shot just past the top corner.

“We missed the net a ton tonight,” said McManama. “We had a lot of shots on goal but we had even more shot attempts, a ton more. We’ve got to hit the net.”

The missed chances came back to haunt North. Scheralis slipped a puck through a pair of defensemen at the blue line and into the path of fellow freshman McGrath. The forward raced in alone on goal and showed great composure to fire a shot into the top corner for a shock lead.

Metea said, “We knew that they come in so hard that one pass through the ‘D’ will probably allow us to flip it out to center and allow our wings to go to work. I felt confident we could beat them in a footrace and we got the chances off that and I’m thankful that they stepped in.”

North was increasingly desperate for an equalizer as time wore down, but Bunker continued to be unbeatable. He stuffed Morehouse on a break down the right wing and then showed quick hands to deny Yeomans after Nik Kojoian teed him up right in front of goal.

“North played great, but Sean was equal to the test,” said Metea. “Goaltenders are the greatest equalizer and if you have a good one then you’re going to be in games.”

Taunton (10-9-3) will try to get some more strong play from Bunker and upset another league opponent when it travels to top seed Canton on Wednesday night.

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Rocketeers Rally In Third Period For Draw With Foxboro

Foxboro North Attleboro boys hockey Espen Reager
Foxboro goalie Espen Reager makes a save with North Attleboro’s Jack Connolly crashing the net in the second period. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The North Attleboro and Foxboro boys hockey teams each exited the New England Sports Village with a point after their division clash on Wednesday night, but understandably, each left wanting more.

For Foxboro, it was 3-1 third period lead that slipped away and a last minute power play that saw the potential game-winning goal clank off the post and stay out that prevented the full two points.

And for North Attleboro, it was a dominating stretch during the second period that saw everything but a goal, as well as a two-goal flurry in the third period that tied the game and swung momentum in their favor but came up short of a game-winner.

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Nonetheless, it was a point apiece as the Rocketeers and Warriors finished deadlocked in a 3-3 draw.

“We should be going into that game knowing we can win the game,” said Foxboro head coach Mark Cedorchuk. “If they won that game, I felt like they would have stolen it from us. Our Achilles heel tonight was they scored two power play goals. We had our chances…but our penalty kill hurt us tonight. Overall I thought our defense played well overall, I thought all five guys played well and moved the puck up ice. And our forwards played well too.”

Foxboro never trailed in the contest, taking a 1-0 lead in the first period, jumping back ahead 2-1 in the second after the Rocketeers tied the game, and pushing the advantage to 3-1early in the third period.

North Attleboro, who was a bit unlucky to go down a goal in the opening period, knotted the score less than a minute into the second and then scored a pair of goals in less than a minute span in the third to tie the game.

Trailing by a goal going into the third, the message from head coach Ben McManama was clear.

“Very simple, it’s no secret…’This will be the most important 15 minutes of our season,’” McManama said. “It’s pretty obvious why, looking at the standings and who we have left on the schedule. I thought they worked hard all game but they brought it to another level in the third period.”

But before North could rally, it faced even more adversity as the Warriors scored less than a minute into the third. Junior Kirk Leach netted a highlight-reel goal, splitting a pair of Rocketeer defenseman and shielding one as curled back in front and popped a shot top shelf to give Foxboro a 3-1 lead with 14:16 to play.

North Attleboro got some life with a power play chance with 11:11 to play and cashed in less than a minute into the man-advantage chance. Tyler Sarro and Dennis Morehouse connected with senior Jack Connolly along the boards in the corner. Connolly curled back to the right circle and fired a wrist shot into the top corner with a screen in front to make it 3-2 on North’s second power play goal of the night.

“The two power play goals were great but the reason they were great is because he didn’t see either shot,” McManama said. “That’s something that we’ve been working on…we’re not just trying to get to the net, we’re trying to take the goalies’ eyes away. So it was refreshing to see it happen.”

With momentum on its side, North Attleboro cashed in less than a minute later. Senior Matt McSweeney drove hard to the net but lost possession. However, the puck popped free right in the middle and senior defenseman Jeff Baker stepped up and blasted a shot through traffic into the back of the net to make it 3-3.

The Rocketeers had a chance to make it three straight with another power play chance at the midway point of the third period but Foxboro goalie Espen Reager came up with a double save on Morehouse and another on a shot from Will Yeomans through traffic.

Reager (34 saves) came up with another key kick save on a low shot from Baker with sophomore forwards Nick Longa and Nik Kojoian crashing hard in front.

Leach broke free in the final minute and went on a breakaway that drew a slash and a power play chance for the Warriors with 38 seconds to play. After winning an offensive zone faceoff, Foxboro sophomore Jack Watts bounced on the loose puck, maneuvered past a defenseman and backhanded a shot five-hole but North goalie Nick Digiacomo got just enough of it and it hit off the post and stayed out.

“We tried to keep everything in front of [Reager] but tonight our Achilles heel was our penalty kill,” Cedorchuk said. “I thought we skated with them, we transitioned well with them, and we kept them to the outside for the most part. I really thought we were going to have that one.

“Knowing where we are now and the level of talent we have, we know that we can compete with anyone on our schedule.”










Foxboro opened the scoring just under three minutes into the game with a bit of an unlucky bounce for the Rocketeers. The Warriors were in the midst of a line change and North looked to counter up ice but the puck was inadvertently blocked by the ref and stayed in North’s zone.

Foxboro’s Kyle McGinnis quickly jumped on the puck and connected with Leach, who found some space and blasted a shot into the back of the net.

North had the edge with eight shots on goal in period but Reager was up to the task each time. He first blocked away a chance from Brady Sarro, gloved a shot from McSweeney, and kicked away a rush from Sam Clarke.

The Warriors’ best chance to double its lead came when Watts gloved down a loose puck and found Ronnie MacLellan but his shot was denied by Digiacomo.

The Rocketeers came out flying in the second period and were rewarded with the tying goal less than a minute in. A flurry of chances resulted in a big scrum in front of the net and eventually, it was Connolly that found the puck and the back of the net, Tyler Sarro and Yeomans assisting, to make it 1-1.

But North was whistled for a penalty after Foxboro’s Ryan Jacobs and Josh Bertumen applied pressure. Less than 20 seconds into the man advantage, Leach skated to the right circle and fired a low shot that Watts redirected right in front to regain a 2-1 advantage.

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North dominated a solid six-minute stretch in the second period but couldn’t find the back of the net. Clarke, Longa, Connolly, and McSweeney all had good chances come up short. But the Rocketeers were able to ride that momentum into the third and score a pair of goals to tie the game.

“There’s a lot of little things going on this year so you have to look at the positives,” McManama said. “We battled back, we probably played one of our better periods energy wise of the year, and we just have to keep doing that. Every day at practice, we have to keep showing up and getting better. If we compete and work hard, we’re going to be fine.”

North Attleboro boys hockey (2-1-3 Hockomock, 6-4-5 overall) is back in action next Wednesday when it travels to Canton. Foxboro (1-2-2, 4-4-3) will visit Taunton on Saturday.

Mansfield and North Head Home With Point Apiece

Mansfield boys hockey
Mansfield and North Attleboro skated to a 2-2 tie at the Foxboro Sports Center. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

Josh PerryFollowJoshPerry


FOXBORO, Mass. – It is a rivalry known for its big hits, close games, and typically a lot of trips to the penalty box. On Saturday night at the Foxboro Sports Center, Mansfield and North Attleboro met again in a physical encounter, as both teams were willing to throw their bodies into checks, but one that stayed almost exclusively 5-on-5.

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There was only one power play between the two teams, but it turned out to be a crucial one. After Nick Longa had given North the lead midway through the third period, Kevin Belanger scored on the power play goal with 4:51 to go, earning Mansfield a 2-2 tie and sending both teams home with a point apiece.

Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini said, “We try to win every third period, but once they got that goal there was no let up. The guys on the bench were rooting for each other, so to get that power play and to capitalize right away was huge.”

“It’s never over until it’s over,” said North Attleboro coach Ben McManama. “Unfortunately we got a penalty late and the strength of our team is usually our penalty kill but that’s a very powerful power play. They’ve got some guys who can put it away.”

North came out flying at the start of the game. The Rocketeers had the first six shots of the night and turned their pressure into the opening goal. Jack Connolly got the puck on net and Mansfield goalie Sean McCafferty managed to keep it out, but the rebound fell kindly for Dennis Morehouse and he pounced to make it 1-0.

The Rocketeers were getting in behind the Mansfield defense at the blue line and were having a lot of success in creating scoring chances with quick breakouts. Matt McSweeney tried to double the lead when he got free on the right wing, but his shot was fired just wide.

“We’ve been struggling with starting quick,” said Balzarini. “I changed things up against Canton (on Wednesday) and I thought we did a good job, but we kind of reverted to last Saturday. After the first five minutes, I think we were fine. We started to control the play a little more near the end and that carried over to the second period.”

Chris Jenkins had the first shot of the game for the Hornets after four minutes. He had a neutral zone steal and forced a pad save out of North goalie Nick Digiacomo. Just seconds later, North was inches away from a 2-0 lead. Jake Gruber rifled a shot off the crossbar from the right circle.

Mansfield almost tied the game three minutes later. Jenkins, from the same spot as his earlier chance, smashed the inside of the far post and the puck caromed to the far boards. Defenseman Jack Gormley forced Digiacomo into another save when he gloved the puck down and got a shot off from the high slot.

The Hornets improved as the period went on, eventually grabbing a 9-8 lead in shots, but North came closest to another goal in the final minutes when Morehouse tipped a shot from the point by Jeff Baker that trickled wide of the post with McCafferty (21 saves) sliding the wrong direction.

After picking up the pace in the first, Mansfield dominated the second period. The Hornets outshot North 13-7 in the second and Digiacomo stood tall to keep the Rocketeers in the game.

A good passing move from Sam Clarke to Connolly to Morehouse forced McCafferty into a save and then Jake Lund raced down the other end to put one on target. Thirty seconds later, Mansfield had a flurry of chances in front. Lund, Jenkins, and Belanger all had shots from close range that Digiacomo (28 saves) turned aside.

Cam Page nearly tied the game, but Digiacomo made another great point-blank save. The puck was loose on the edge of the crease and the North goalie dove to poke it away. Unfortunately for him, the puck went straight to Sam Clayman and the defenseman made no mistake with a wrister into the open net.

Jenkins forced a blocker save with a quick-release shot off a face-off and then Lund slipped a pass between two defensemen to Belanger, but his shot at the near post was smothered.

“He made some big time saves,” McManama said about Digiacomo. “Even on the goal they scored, he might have made three unbelievable saves right before they scored. The kid just works so hard at it. He waited for so long, it means a lot to him, he cares about it, and it’s great to see him having success.”

North almost got its lead back with three minutes left in the period. Clarke forced McCafferty into a save and the Mansfield defense recovered just in time to clear the rebound away from Connolly, who was crashing the net.

The third period was back-and-forth, as neither team wanted to make a mistake that could lead to a winning goal. With 8:56 to play, North thought it may just have won the game. Longa, a sophomore forward, gained the zone and skated across the slot going from right to left. He got his hands free and fired a shot back across his body and into the top corner.

Mansfield started pressing to find an equalizer. Gormley hit a backhand through traffic that forced a stick save and Lund had a shot from the right circle blocked by a sliding Will Yeomans. When the puck came back to Lund, he forced Digiacomo into another stop.

Balzarini spoke after a recent game about the Hornets needing to get the defense into the attack and Mansfield got a lot of offense from the blue line on Saturday. He said, “It’s huge for us because it’s more offense and we have the guys who are skilled and quick enough to allow our ‘D’ to jump into the play more and then get back. Knock on wood, it hasn’t cost us too many times, but we’re cognizant of that.”

With 5:09 to go, Mansfield jumped onto the power play for the first time. Eighteen seconds later, the game was tied. Belanger controlled the puck behind the net and he drifted out to the left wing, turned into the open space, and sniped the far top corner to snag a point for his team.

Although it wasn’t a win, McManama saw a lot of progress from his team’s first meeting with Mansfield (a 5-2 loss). He said, “They’re a very good team and we knew what they had, but I just think our attitude just changed. We had a little adversity here or there and we’re coming together as a team, which is the exciting part. We want the win, but I’m seeing this team transform into what we can be and it’s good to see.”

Mansfield (3-3-2, 1-1-1) will be back at home on Wednesday when the Hornets host Taunton. North Attleboro (6-2-3, 2-0-1) dropped a point behind Canton in the league standings and will be back at the Foxboro Sports Center on Wednesday to face King Philip.

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