FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the final horn sounded, the North Attleborough players swarmed around Matt Raposo, engulfing the goaltender in a swirl of celebration, while sticks, gloves, and helmets flew through the air. You could be forgiven for wondering when the state championship trophy was getting wheeled on to the ice.
The Rocketeers (10-3-0) had reason to celebrate. In the hockey program’s short five-year history, North Attleborough had passed a number of milestones, including last year’s playoff appearance, but had yet to earn a marquee victory against league rival Mansfield.
On Saturday night, in front of a frenzied crowd at the Foxboro Sports Center, two power play goals by senior forward Tim Joyce and 27 saves from Raposo led North to a 2-1 victory over the Hornets.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said North Attleborough head coach Steve Snizek, who could not stop smiling after the game. “Our boys came out playing hard as they could and that’s all I could ask of them.”
Joyce opened the scoring 3:49 into the game. He pounced on the rebound of a shot by senior defenseman Matt Rosen to make it 1-0. With the score tied 1-1 four minutes into the second period, Joyce found the back of the net again assisted by Ryan Burns and Sean Young.
The senior has been the forgotten man on North’s first-line with most of the attention going to sophomores Young and Marshall Blackman, who have each surpassed the 20-point plateau this season. However, his coach knows that he can count on Joyce in big games.
“He always plays well against Mansfield and he’s a central part of that line all season,” Snizek said. “He got the goals when we needed them most.”
North dominated the opening period, cheered on by a raucous “White-Out” student section. The Rocketeers outshot Mansfield 12-5 in the first period, but the Hornets turned things around after the first intermission. Mansfield outshot North 16-7 in the second.
The Rocketeers were kept in the game by the strong goaltending of Raposo. The junior made a series of big saves to keep North in front, including a mind-boggling stretch to stop Cam Neary on a breakaway. Raposo also got a piece of the puck robbing Hornets captain and leading scorer Brendan Murphy in the final minute of the game.
Snizek remarked, “He’s been coming up big for us in big games such as Oliver Ames and now this one. He’s been playing well all season. I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. Our defense did really well in stopping their offensive attack.”
Mansfield (7-2-3) was sluggish in the first period, but still bounced back to tie the game. With 4:35 left in the period, sophomore Adam Blackmon took a feed from senior Kevin Flynn and finished to make it 1-1. It was the only chance that the Hornets were able to convert. The loss put an end to Mansfield’s six-game win streak (and eight games unbeaten).
The North Attleborough hockey program is still young and is developing amidst the competitive environment of the Hockomock League. While the teams have only recently begun meeting on the ice, the rivalry between the Rocketeers and Mansfield transcends any particular sport.
While the North players celebrated in the locker room with its fans, the coaches allowed themselves to share in the revelry. It was a clear indication of just how important the team took this game. In addition to the emotions of finally beating a rivalry, the game also qualified the Rocketeers for a spot in the postseason.
“This has always been a rivalry, especially in the last couple of years,” Snizek explained. “We tied them last year and then lost to them into the tournament. The crowd really got them into it as well.”
Mansfield will try to bounce back on Wednesday against perennial Hockomock power Franklin. North Attleborough will try to keep the momentum going and sweep the season series against Attleboro.