The Hornets controlled the opening 15 minutes, seizing a 2-0 lead only for the Warriors to respond with an equally as dominant second period that netted a pair of goals and had the teams deadlocked entering the final period.
The play on the ice certainly favored King Philip in the third period but nothing changed on the scoreboard as Mansfield senior goalie Sean McCafferty shined between the pipes to deny the Warriors a third goal, stealing a point in a 2-2 non-league contest between division rivals.
“In the third period he was unbelievable,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Balzarini as McCafferty recorded 15 of his 27 saves in the last period to prevent KP from grabbing its 10th win of the season.
The point helps Mansfield move within five points of qualifying for the state tournament, although the Hornets could qualify with a point against Foxboro on Friday, securing a second place finish in the Kelley-Rex.
“He’s been the backbone of this team all year long,” Balzarini continued about McCafferty. “Games we’ve won, games that we’ve tied, even games that we’ve lost, he’s played great. He played phenomenal against Winthrop even though they scored what they did, it could have been a lot more. And he was great again tonight in the third.”
What looked like a good start for King Philip ended up being a big moment for Mansfield. The Warriors went on the power play just over a minute into the contest but were caught a bit flat-footed. Hornet senior Kevin Belanger won a battle at the blue line and skated in on a breakaway. He cut across the front of the net and deposited the puck five-hole to give Mansfield a 1-0 lead just 1:46 into the game.
From there, the Hornets piled it on in the opening period, holding an 11-4 advantage on shot on goals. Just past the midway point of the period, an interference call in the neutral zone presented the Hornets with a power play opportunity and Mansfield cashed in just over a minute in.
After Chris Jenkins had a shot blocked, Belanger quickly batted the loose buck on goal. King Philip goalie Jesper Makudera (17 saves) made a pad stop but Jake Lund was the first to the rebound and buried it into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead with 5:31 to play in the first.
Mansfield nearly made it 3-0 in the first in the final minutes when Belanger flew into the offensive zone and fired a wrist shot that clanked off the far post and stayed out.
The second period couldn’t have gone much different than the first as it was all King Philip from the first face off. Junior Justin Yatsuhashi had an early chance after a turnover but his backhand from in close was over the bar.
Mansfield’s Sam Clayman came up with a big stop on a two-on-one chance for the Warriors at the 12 minute mark but the Warriors kept applying pressure and came up with a power play chance with 8:32 to go in the second.
McCafferty came up with early saves on the man-down situation stopping a give-and-go between Joe Boselli and Nolan Feyler, the former depositing a shot right into the goalie’s chest. Senior defenseman Kyle Gray also had a blast denied in the open portion of the power play.
Finally the pressure paid off as Gray fired a low show that was saved but senior Chris Daniels was in perfect position in front to clean up the rebound with a nice backhand finish to make it 2-1.
“It was very similar to the first game,” said KP coach Paul Carlow, the Warriors having erased a two-goal deficit in the first meeting as well. “I try to use analogies with the kids…you never want to get punched in the face first, right? But we almost have to. First shot on net goes in both games. I love their resolve, I love their battle…they don’t quit. I’d love to see us come out [to start] like we did in the second. Hopefully we get that.”
King Philip capitalized on the momentum and needed just 17 seconds to find the equalizing goal. The puck popped up near the blue line and was brought down by a Hornet but King Philip’s Jack Coulter was alert to the play, applying pressure and came away with the puck.
It resulted in a two-on-one chance for KP and Coulter slid a pass across for a finish from Aidan Boulger to make it 2-2 with 6:55 to play in the second. The Warriors had another power play chance late in the period but the Hornets killed it off.
“I think there’s always a natural letdown after qualifying for the tournament, especially for a team that isn’t used to being there,” Carlow said. “We’re in and maybe we took our foot off the gas, I think that was what happened in the first. But I love the way they responded, they came out and tied it in the second. And I felt like we outplayed them down the stretch, we certainly had more quality chances in the third.
“Mansfield always plays us tough. [McCafferty] certainly played well for them tonight. They are a good team, I think they’ll get into the tournament.”
The result of the period featured stop after stop from McCafferty. Coulter fired a shot that was redirected by Conor Cooke only to be denied by the McCafferty’s mask. Yatsuhashi had a found chance swallowed up.
The best chance came at the midway point when Boselli came away with a breakaway chance, making a move to get past McCafferty but the goalie did enough for force Boselli wide enough that his bid on goal hit the post and stayed out. KP had two rebound chances after with Feyler and Rocco Bianculli burying shots on net but were stoned by McCafferty.
Mansfield nearly came up with a chance to steal the win on a two-on-one break but Gray made a terrific read to stop the bid.
King Philip’s final chances were from Feyler, who took a pass from Bianculli, but didn’t get all of it when he spun around to fire a shot on goal. And Noah Ray got a piece of a shot from Bianculli but again McCafferty was up to the task.
“[Two-goal leads] have not been our friend at all,” Balzarini said, noting the first meeting against KP plus a pair of two-goal leads against Franklin that both disappeared. “We were struggling starting, and now that’s getting better, but we just have to put together a 45-minute game. There are times we get complacent and we stray away from what we’re trying to focus on within our system. I thought our forecheck was great in the first period and then we just were kind of on our heels.”
King Philip boys hockey (4-2-2 Hockomock, 9-4-3 overall) will host Oliver Ames on Saturday while Mansfield (3-1-3, 5-6-5) will play its final league game of the year against Foxboro. If Mansfield wins, they will finish alone in second place, while a tie would mean the Hornets share second with KP, both situations securing Mansfield a playoff berth. A Foxboro win would mean Mansfield finished third in the division and need five points in its final three games.