(Highlights courtesy of the Needham Channel)
WELLESLEY, Mass. -- In a matchup of perennial powers of the Bay State League’s respective hockey divisions, No. 23 Norwood’s 4-3 victory over No. 7 Needham was more than just two old rivals going at it.
In the big picture of things, it meant a whole lot more.
For the Mustangs (11-2-4, 8-0-4), Wednesday’s battle at the Babson Skating Center was a valediction, proof positive they will be a very tough out for any potential postseason opponent. The win over the Rockets is a marquee note to an already successful season.
On the other hand, it seems as though a hole might have been punched in the Rockets’ Super 8 tournament resume. Coupled with a costly early January loss to No. 16 Braintree – whom the Rockets now trail by a point in the Bay State Carey – Needham has only complicated their once presumed path back to the state’s top hockey tournament.
But, in short, it was matter of the Mustangs working their game plan to perfection.
Norwood scored twice within 23 seconds, running to a 2-0 lead less than four minutes in. Goals by Peter Kelly and Mike Murray allowed the Mustangs to settle in and focus on shutting down the Rockets’ counter attack.
“We were able to stay with our forecheck, which bottled them up a little bit in that first period,” Norwood head coach Bill Clifford said.
Playing against a sticky 1-2-2 front, Needham (12-3-0, 9-2-0) struggled early on to put consistent pressure on Mustangs goaltender Jordan Davis (34 saves).
The Rockets finally cracked Davis midway through the second period, with senior forward Chris Lambert cleaning up a rebound from the low slot.
But Norwood had an answer.
Senior captain Brendan Cathcart (1 G, 1 A) was the beneficiary of Tyler Gover’s dogged work behind the net with 1:18 remaining in the second. Gover fought off the checks of Needham’s blue-line tandem to shovel a centering pass to Cathcart for the goal. It was part of a three-assist game for Norwood’s junior forward.
“This game went a lot like the Braintree game,” Needham head coach Bill Guisti said. “We came out a little bit sluggish and they got those two goals. It’s like just said to our guys, we can’t be spotting these good teams two goals.”
Needham freshman forward James Fisher cut the lead to one 12 seconds after Cathcart’s tally.
However, Mustangs sophomore forward Mark Powers dealt the Rockets a knockout blow at 1:23 of the third. Swinging beneath the goal line, Powers settled in back of the Rockets’ cage, only to hit the brakes and shift back to his left. With Needham netminder Connor Murray buying the deke, Powers shifted back around, depositing the puck in a gaping net with Murray slow to break from the right side post.
Needham made a furious comeback attempt in the final minute with goaltender pulled. Timmy Parlato picking up his second point of the game on his goal with 12.3 seconds remaining.
Despite a couple more good looks at the Norwood cage off the ensuing faceoff, the Mustangs held tight and pocketed their biggest win to date.
“It gave us a little confidence and we hung on,” Clifford said of the quick start. “I thought we played a great game, they did a good job around the boards, the forecheck was good, the defensive zone coverage was good.
“They’ve been working hard all year and it’s starting to pay off for them.”
DOING IT AGAIN FOR NO. 3
Norwood constantly has another player, another coach on their side, watching from the other side of the glass.
This year would have been Matt Brown’s senior season with the Mustangs. And, while Brown’s hockey career ended on that fateful night in January 2010, the resilient 17-year-old remains a guiding presence to the program.
“He’s with us all the time,” Clifford said of Brown. “He comes to games, practices, pasta dinners. The kids are always over his house hanging out, so they have a good bond together.”
Brown has provided more than moral support to his teammates on the ice, he’s been another set of eyes for Clifford’s coaching staff.
“He always tells me exactly what he sees, and he does a good job. He knows the game inside and out. He tells me some things that I miss.”