By David James, HockomockSports.com Contributor
WALPOLE, Mass. — North Attleboro gave a perennial state power in Walpole all it could handle, but the Rebels put together a late run to end the game, earning a 7-4 win.
North’s staunch defense put together one of its most impressive performances of the year, forcing Walpole into an uncharacteristically low scoring affair. Time after time Big Red forced shots that went way off the cage, and goaltender Jake McNeany (10 saves) was everywhere for the state’s fifth-best scoring defense.
Senior captain Jason McNeany (three goals) saved one of his best performances for last, winning 11 out of 15 faceoffs to give North the chances it needed, as well as being the game’s leading scorer.
Fans of a defensive battle were in for a treat as 10 minutes passed before a shot on net took place when Walpole’s Thomas Shea opened up the scoring for the Rebels. There would be only one more shot on cage, as well as nine combined turnovers throughout the first, leaving the score at 1-0.
The second quarter saw both offenses settle down, but had a similar result. Cullen McGlynn had the lone tally making it 2-0 for the Rebels halfway through the quarter. North had chances to respond, as Walpole picked up a penalty with 1:35 remaining in the half, but hit the post twice. Walpole goalie Joseph McGrath made four saves in the quarter and kept the score at 2-0 going into the half.
Importantly for Big Red though, Walpole was hit with another penalty with just three seconds left on the clock. Carrying a man advantage into the second half, Jason McNeany won the faceoff, hit teammate Tommy Lindstrom (two assists), who gave it right back to McNeany, who buried the man-up ripper from straight on to give North their first goal of the game.
Both offenses went back and forth as Walpole’s Kyle Hirshom responded to make it a two-goal game again, quickly followed up by Andy DeMattio’s goal off a nifty feed from Nick Ward. Two minutes later Lindstrom was able to draw a penalty and find McNeany again, who scored on the continuation and tied the game, 3-3.
Unphased by the momentum, UMass Lowell commit Conor Foley was able to put one in the back of the net 30 seconds later to silence the North crowd.
Walpole got just the break they needed to steal all the momentum one minute into the fourth quarter. After a Jake McNeany save, a scrum formed in front of the net. After 10 seconds of fighting for it, Foley was able to poke it loose and hockey slap shot it into the back of the net, making it 5-3 in favor of Walpole.
Ryan Birch scored the Rebels’ sixth of the game to extend the lead to three with eight minutes to play. McNeany willed his way through a Walpole defender to make it a two-goal game again but two back-to-back North penalties and excellent goaltending by McGrath would make that the last opportunity for a comeback.
After North’s defense killed off a six on four penalty kill, McGlynn was able to add an insurance goal to make it 7-4, which would stand for the remainder of the game.
Although not the way the Rocketeers (15-5) wanted to end their season, they have plenty to hang their hats on, as they exceeded all expectations for this year. Replacing their entire starting offense from last year other than Lindstrom, as well as 2017 Hockomock League MVP goaltender Dan MacDonald, is no small task. Big Red proved that they’re at a point where they don’t have to rebuild, they reload.
Still a relatively young program, North has come a long way in 11 years. A program that had just eight wins in its first four years when head coach Kevin Young took over has now strung together 31 wins in the last two years, and everything is trending up for Big Red, as a boatload of talented underclassmen with lots of experience return to next year’s roster.