But North Attleboro sophomore Brendan McHugh battled his way to a second opportunity and didn’t let this one past.
Just seconds after the defenseman had his breakaway turned aside, he tracked the puck down in the corner, got around an opponent and muscled his way to the game-winning goal on the doorstep to hand the fifth-seeded Rocketeers a 2-1 win over 12th-seeded Plymouth North.
“I have pretty awful hands and I came in on a breakaway and I had no idea what to do,” admitted McHugh. “I tried to put it five hole but it didn’t work. I picked it up in the corner and they were kind of off me.
“We play a lot of 3-on-3 at practice so after I beat the first guy, I stuffed it in and then just kept pushing as hard as I could and I saw it go in.”
With the win, North Attleboro advances to the MIAA Division 2 South Sectional Quarterfinals to take on the winner of Westwood and Plymouth South.
“It takes a lot of character, a lot of poise, a lot of teamwork really,” said North Attleboro head coach Steve Snizek. “It’s about knowing your limitations and my guys, they did. They weren’t going to try to overextend themselves when they didn’t have a lot left in the tank. It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness.
“It’s about smart, unselfish hockey. [Plymouth North] played a great game, they have a hell of a team over there. We were lucky to get the bounces when we needed it.”
The teams were knotted 1-1 after 45 minutes of play, sending the teams into a first overtime period played 4-on-4. While the Rocketeers had a couple of offensive zone trips early, the six-minute span really belonged to the Panthers.
But for every shot, North Attleboro goalie sophomore Ryan Warren had an answer. He registered seven of his 26 saves in that frame to keep Big Red level. The Panthers also had a chance on a rebound but when the puck was chipped across the goal line, North defenseman Will Yeomans knocked it away over the top of the goal.
“I thought our goalie kept in it as usual,” Snizek said. “He was definitely player of the game in mind. They came out strong in that first overtime period and he handled it. He played his angles very well and gobbled everything up, which is what he usually does.”
North Attleboro went on the power play just over a minute into the second overtime period, playing with a 4-on-3 advantage. The Rocketeers nearly cashed in right away but Yeomans had his close range big go over the bar.
After a scoreless first period – a frame that saw the Rocketeers dominate offensive zone time but register just two shots on goal – Big Red was able to break through late in the second period.
Junior Jason McNeany dished the puck back to senior Vincent Zammiello at the blue line. The defenseman took a stride towards goal and unleashed a wrist shot. With plenty of traffic in front, the puck found its way through and looked to take a slight deflection off a Plymouth North player before finding the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Plymouth North found the equalizer right around the same point in the final period. After a faceoff, the puck was played in front before taking a weird bounce with the Panthers’ Brian Kingsbury putting it in the back of the net late in the third.
The two teams played nearly 10 minutes of extra hockey at either 4-on-4 or 3-on-3.
“It shows how important it is for other guys to step up,” McHugh said. “It’s a full team effort every game, you can’t rely on just one line. Everyone has to pick up the slack and work together.”
“At the end when we got the goal, I just wanted to get the freshest legs we had out there,” Snizek said. “We had so many guys that are gassed so we were trying to play everybody. We’ve have some depth so it paid off.”
North Attleboro (14-3-4) will play either #4 Westwood or #13 Plymouth South on Saturday at 2:00 at Asiaf Arena in Brockton.