WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Wilmington boys' hockey coach Steve Scanlon has seen his team on the watch list for the Super 8 the last few years.
The coach has gained an appreciation of what it takes and has scheduled accordingly. If the Wildcats are to keep their tournament hopes alive its starts not just against out of conference squads, but with their battle for top position in the Middlesex Freedom division.
Host Wilmington proved an early season point as it bested Burlington, 3-1, in a clash of reigning Eastern Mass champs at Ristuccia Arena yesterday afternoon.
“We knew we had a good crew coming back so we wanted to challenge ourselves,” Scanlon said. “You have to play those teams to get in. We know (Burlington) is well coach, they work hard and they have some skilled players.”
Junior Austin O'Neal scored the game-winner for the Wildcats (8-1, 5-0) on a behind-the-net pass with 1:02 left in the second period. Looking to hit teammate freshman William Falter along the boards, O'Neal ricocheted the puck off a defender's skate and past the keeper for the 2-1 advantage.
“I was coming around the net and I went to throw it out to Billy and it went off the defensemen's skate (and) short side on the goalie,” O'Neal said. “The goalie had no idea. You work hard and throw it to the front of the net anything can happen.”
Wilmington's starting line of left wing Cam Owens, right wing Jacob Rogers (both seniors), and junior center Brendan McDonough were a constant threat on the counter attack.
Owens and Rogers each assisted each other on a goal with both scores coming on a breakaway.
Rogers caught a 3-on-1 with McDonough and Owens at 4:06 remaining in the first period for the opening tally. The right winger worked the puck through their triangle formation toward McDonough and onto Owens, who slipped it in along the left post.
“Quick hand skills and all three are good skaters,” Scanlon said. “When they grab a puck they just accelerate out of their zone (and) we do a lot of full ice stuff to work on that. Good things happen when you put the puck on net.”
A near one-timer from Red Devils winger J.P. Scola to Liam Cronin (both seniors) opened a two-on-one open net opportunity for Owens and Rogers in the final seconds. Owens slipped the rubber in front of a Burlington defender and too Rogers who finished the 3-1 score with 41 seconds left.
GET HUNGRY RED DEVILS
Burlington scored its only tally on a deflected shot at the side face off circle from senior Sean Costa that went off teammate Sean Murphy to equalize at 1-1 with 2:46 left in the first period.
“We have got to do a better job getting into the 'hungry areas',” Burlington head coach Bob Conceison said, "getting those type of shots. We work on it all the time.”
The Red Devils gained momentum earlier in the second period as they won the shots on target battle 10 to one. A slap shot by senior Shane Morgan slipped past the keeper and into crease for an open score by Scola at 4:53 into the period, but officials whistled the puck as frozen.
“We got our forecheck going,” Conceison said. “We are a good skating team, but we have to find a way to get goals. We are a very young [and] inexperienced team so hopefully we are going to get better.”
TOUGH BETWEEN THE POSTS
Wildcats' keeper Drew Foley has averaged one goal allowed per game this season. The junior goalie kept his pattern alive by knocking 29 shots away and allowing only one to slip in. Red Devils' senior goaltender Derek DeCastro also made 28 saves.
Wilmington will face defending Super 8 champ No. 5 Malden Catholic (3-2-3) on Monday night.