READING, Mass. -- No. 5 Reading nearly skated Middlesex League rival Burlington out of the barn after one period of hockey Monday night. The Rockets opened up a shooting gallery in the Red Devils’ zone and, had it not been for the efforts of Burlington goaltender Derek DeCastro, things easily could have gotten out of hand fast.
Even though Reading went on to outshoot the Red Devils by a combined 35-17 margin, the action was a lot closer.
In the words of Rockets head coach Mark Doherty, “It was a Reading, Burlington hockey game.”
Reading prevailed, escaping with a 3-2 win over the No. 24 Red Devils, thanks to a two-goal game from junior forward Jake Barbera. But it wasn’t as easy as it looked and, as the Burlington power play opportunities racked up, it came down to a diligent group of penalty killers who made the difference for the Rockets (13-1-4, 9-0-3).
Although Reading seemed to be waltzing away with two points, holding a 3-1 lead late in the second period, the Red Devils (6-4-5, 5-3-5) got back into it with their potent power play.
Senior captain C.J. Grinnell made a tape-to-tape across the width of the ice surface to set up Joe Berardi’s half-slap, one-timer for a goal on the man-advantage with 4:22 remaining in the third.
Burlington had two sterling opportunities to notch the equalizer in the third, with two additional power plays, but the Rockets were game. Reading limited the Red Devils’ man-up unit to just one shot on goal in their final two power play chances, playing a stifling brand of defense in front of goaltender Evan Morelli.
“We have some good penalty killers,” Doherty said. “You talk about [Mark] Dente, [Rob] Devaney, [Mike] Thomson, they all know what they have to do. They know that they just have to rise to the situation.”
The Rockets claimed a 2-1 lead at the first break, after peppering DeCastro (32 saves) with a barrage of 15 shots on goal.
Reading drew first blood when Dente collected a nifty saucer pass from Alex Guarnotta and slipped behind the Burlington defense for a partial breakaway. Dente finished on the backhand for a 1-0 lead at 6:06.
Red Devils defenseman evened the score at 11:09 of the first, stepping up from the blue line, snatching a clearing attempt and firing off a wrister on an unassisted goal.
The Rockets went to the room with a one-goal lead after Barbera tallied his first of the game, putting back a rebound off a shot from Devaney. Barbera followed with his second of the game just 14 seconds into the second period.
Again, the rangy winger’s net-front presence paid dividends.
“We know that we have guys who can get it to the net,” Barbera said. “We have skill guys who can have a presence on the wall, they can definitely move the puck well. I know when they’re coming down the boards, we’re just getting it to the net … Robby [Devaney] and Mike [Thomson] were able to get it to the net.”
Barbera deposited the rebound from a Thomson slapper to provide the Rockets with a two-goal cushion.
However, Burlington again cut the deficit with Berardi’s power-play blast.
“They’re a bigger, a stronger, an older team, I think you could see that all night,” Burlington head coach Bob Conceison said. “But I liked the way our kids battled. I was real happy with our third period and we had some power plays in the third period that they killed and they made some good plays.”