KINGSTON, Mass. – Even in his mind, Duxbury head coach John Blake knew his team was toast.
“I thought it was over,” he said.
After both teams took their timeouts, the Dragons assembled around the faceoff circle with 5.3 seconds to play and down a goal in Wednesday evening’s non-league tilt against Barnstable at The Bog. They executed their plan with senior captain Trevor O’Brien winning the draw back to Tyler Powers at the point.
However, Powers wasn’t able to get the puck to settle and the shot didn’t quite come through. It was about that time Blake was about to put his team’s opener in the loss column.
But there was O’Brien. He coolly collected the loose puck and found an opening on the short side to beat the Red Raiders’ nearly impenetrable goaltender, Kevin Huska (23 saves). There was then 1.2 seconds remaining and a lot of incredulous-looking faces around the rink – including the one behind the Dragons’ bench.
Duxbury escaped with a point and a 2-2 tie.
“That why you have to play to the final whistle,” Blake said.
And it was those minor victories that helped Duxbury (0-0-1) get even.
“There were a little bit better on every one-on-one battle, I told my coaching staff, I thought that was the difference,” Barnstable head coach Scott Nickerson said. “And it showed itself in the end.”
After a scoreless first period, the Dragons asserted their will down low on the cycle through the second. Duxbury dominated the territorial play and was rewarded with the first goal of the game at 7:14, with senior captain Nick Marrocco sliding a back-hander past Huska from the top of the crease. O’Brien and Shawn Errasti picked up the assists.
Yet, Barnstable (2-0-1) showed resiliency, striking back before the period was out. Junior defenseman Michael McDonough stepped into the play to tie it with 26 seconds remaining in the second.
The Red Raiders also transferred the momentum into the third, scoring on its first shot on goal of the period. Junior winger Cody Pasic scored his fourth goal in three games at 3:50 of the third.
Despite peppering Huska with 11 shots during the final 14-plus minutes, the Dragons were unable to find the equalizer.
Ultimately, they just wanted it a little more in the end.
“Everybody just has to bear down, get their guy, win the faceoff and get it to the net,” O’Brien said of the game-tying push. “It’s all mental toughness at that point.”
He continued, “When you have a little letdown when they score, it’s hard to pick the boys back up. But once you do, we started rolling, controlling the play and we were all over them.”
The onslaught: Duxbury could have widened its lead in the second, when the Dragons had four of their five power-play opportunities.
But, while they weren’t able to cash in, the Dragons continued pushing the issue while working the puck down low and set up the cycle below the dots.
“We feel that our strength is our speed and skill up front, and our top nine forwards are very skilled,” Blake said. “We want to really keep that puck down low, really work it down low. We feel like we have an advantage over most teams with our forwards going against their defensemen.”
The answer: Again, as the Red Raiders came to rely upon him last season, Huska was the backbone to their hopes on Wednesday.
Barnstable’s blue-line corps isn’t too deep, as Nickerson conceded after last year’s roster turnover, but the Red Raiders’ top three of Donnie Brodd, Chris Fowler and McDonough is steady and rugged.
But the group thrives when the senior netminder is on point.
“He’s a competitor,” Nickerson said of Huska. “He’s a goalie with a big heart and he does whatever he has to do to stop the puck. When you have that, the team becomes more competitive. When you have a backstop like that, you’re in every game, or at least you should be.”
Filling the void: For Barnstable, dealing with the graduation of an All-State caliber player in Max Willman and the defection of last year’s top-scorer Connor Fries to prep school has left the offense a little thin.
However, the Red Raiders are averaging five goals a game in the early going, spurred on by a host of forwards who’ve already exceed their production from last season.
Take Pasic for example. In his sophomore season last year, Pasic had just one point. Through three games of the 2013-14 campaign, he already has eight.
Senior Cam Curtin also has five points thus far after scratching the score sheet just once last year.
“It’s not an excuse, but we’re young, and we’re learning,” Nickerson said.