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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
A two-point lead for the visitors after a quarter, a tied game at the halftime break, and just a one-point advantage for the Bombardiers made it anyone’s game heading into the final frame.
And even two minutes into the final quarter, just one basket separated the rivals with Attleboro holding onto to a 45-43 lead.
But just like that, the Bombardiers flexed their muscles on both ends of the court. Attleboro hit six of their next seven attempts from the floor with the lone miss hauled in for an offensive rebound that resulted in two free throws. And defensively, the Rocketeers missed three shots while committing four turnovers.
The result was an 18-0 run that turned the game on its head and a close contest into a comfortable 63-46 win for the Bombardiers.
“We made that run because we played defense,” said Attleboro head coach Mark Houle. “You can’t score 18 straight if you’re giving up baskets on the other end. We talk about being consistently good on defense and during that segment, we were very good.
“We went to a little different look on offense and we were able to spread them out a little bit. Obviously, when you make shots it changes everything. But we were stagnant on offense but it was because their defense kind of made us play like that.”
North Attleboro junior George Ladd (eight points, five assists) finished off a tough layup through contact to bring the hosts within 45-43 with 6:01 left on the clock.
Nick McMahon (nine points, seven assists) penetrated the North Attleboro zone and kicked it out to classmate Tim Callahan (17 points) for his fifth trifecta of the game, a shot that sparked the Attleboro offense.
Attleboro got a stop on the other end and senior Bryant Ciccio (15 points) sank a difficult baseline jumper before the Rocketeers had an empty trip. Ciccio took a pass from Jason Weir at the top of the key and sank another three for the Bombardiers, putting the visitors up 53-43 with just under four minutes to play.
North’s turnover woes (16 in total) factored in as Ciccio came up with a steal, the play resulting in two made free throws from Qualeem Charles (16 points, nine rebounds). It was near deja vu on the ensuing Rocketeer possession as Ciccio stripped the ball free and went in for an uncontested layup.
“We have to have more urgency at all times,” said North Attleboro coach Sean Mulkerrins. “When the moment gets big, we can’t change our focus level or let the scoreboard dictate how we play. It’s a hard lesson for our guys to learn but that’s back-to-back games, five minutes to play against a quality team…we’re not about moral victories, we have to be better. We have to do a better job coaching too.
“Credit to their better players, Ciccio stepped up in that fourth quarter, McMahon had a nice play, they hurt us inside on the glass. But selfishly from my end, we can’t turn the ball over and then have a breakdown defensively, it’s a double whammy. And then look up at the scoreboard and feel bad for yourself and let that dictate how you play. It certainly snowballed. Ultimately we have to step up and have more urgency.”
A travel gave the visitors the ball back, and despite their first miss of the stretch, Charles hauled in the board and was fouled going back up. He hit two more free throws while North’s cold stretch continued with a missed corner three.
McMahon capped the run with back-to-back strong takes to the rim sandwiched around a Rocketeer turnover after a double team from Ciccio and Charles.
“I thought Nick started feeling more comfortable towards the end,” Houle said. “He’s been terrific for us this year and against a zone, you can’t just pass it around the whole time you have to slip and look to attack a little bit. And then he started hitting wide open guys. So it was a win-win when you knock them down, you get a paint touch on the dribble penetration then kick it out.
“And for us in the second half, every time Q touched it we wanted him to score it. He’s a very unselfish player, he’d rather pass to his teammates but for us to be successful, we need him scoring in there.”
While the Bombardiers finally pulled away in the fourth quarter, they were on the verge of doing so in each of the previous two quarters but the Rocketeers continually made timely shots and stops to stay in it.
Callahan (twice) and Ciccio both connected on early threes for the Bombardiers but Brody Rosenberg (eight points), Edan Kelley, and Ethan Friberg (11 points, eight rebounds) were equal to the task. A bucket from Lorenzo Wilson and two free throws from Ciccio had Attleboro up 15-13 at the end of one.
Another triple from Callahan opened the second quarter, Charles finished off a three-point play, and Callahan sank yet another three as Attleboro started the frame strong. But a triple from Rosenberg and another from Friberg kept the Rocketeers in the game.
After a Callahan putback, the Rocketeers closed the first half on a 7-0 run with Ladd scoring down low, Friberg connecting on his third trifecta of the half, and Tommy Whalen finishing off a nice pass from Josh Porter to make it 26-26 at the break.
“They shot very well tonight, they had nine threes,” Houle said. “When they hit them back-to-back, you can’t get over that hump to pull away. They started to miss some shots but I think our defense started forcing some different things. And then they started over-penetrating a little bit and we swallowed them up.”
Timmy carried us in the first half, he was terrific. And he needed that because he’s had some good looks throughout the season and he really stepped up tonight.
Attleboro created some room with a 9-4 run capped by a Ciccio three to start the second half but Whalen answered with a triple and Jared Vacher hit back-to-back threes as North Attleboro surged ahead for the first time, 39-37.
But North closed the quarter with a pair of misses and three straight turnovers, the latter turning into a bucket from Alvin Harrison that gave Attleboro a 40-39 lead heading into the fourth.
“I think it was a combination of them having a concerted effort on where to attack us,” Mulkerrins said of the fourth. “We were mixing up man and zone, I have to see it but my feeling is that we got a little tired and got stuck watching. You can’t be late against that quality of a team.”