WOBURN, Mass. – Winning the special teams battle often goes a long way in determining the outcome of a hockey game. That was the case Wednesday night at O’Brien Rink in Woburn as the Reading Rockets scored twice on the man advantage to skate past Arlington Catholic, 3-1.
Reading lost to Arlington Catholic, 4-1, in the Winter Classic Showcase in Billerica back in December, so coach Mark Doherty thought it was important for his team to get off to a strong start.
“They beat us 4-1 at Christmas, but I feel we’re a different team now. We’ve grown a lot since then. I was hoping we’d score early to stem the flow,” said the former UNH defenseman.
Reading went to the power play in the first minute of the game when an Arlington Catholic player was whistled for hooking. The Rockets worked the puck around the attacking zone before getting the puck out front to Mike Thomson who fired two quick shots on goal. Fellow senior Jake Barbera swooped in and lifted the rebound past AC goalie John Richard.
“That first goal was huge,” emphasized Doherty.
It took less than five minutes for the Cougars to even the score at the 5:06 mark. Defenseman Brian Goggin, who had a very solid game, made a nice play to get the puck down low to Justin DeMarco. After sidestepping a Rockets defender, DeMarco fed the puck out to a cutting Ryan Smith who buried the puck into the back of the net.
The score would stay knotted at one until the third period when the Rockets power play went back to work. This time it took just three seconds as Mike Thomson made a beautiful play off the draw to get the puck on net where younger brother Matt backhanded the rebounder into the cage.
“Mike Thompson made a great play. He made that goal happen,” said Doherty.
The Rockets scored twice in three power play chances. Neither tally on the man advantage took long as Reading took advantage of its skill to move the puck quickly.
“We have good skill. We can put a power play out there and all five guys have skill. Thank goodness things went our way and we came away with two goals on the power play,” Doherty explained.
Although a freshman scored the game-winner, many of the seniors stepped up with a big game, something that Doherty says will be important moving forward.
“If Mike Thomson and Jake Barbera aren’t on their games we’re going to struggle. That’s what comes with being a senior. You should have added pressure,” said the coach.
Goaltender Ian Lapham, another senior, made several key saves to keep the charging Cougars from tying the score in the final minutes of the game.
“Ian did a very nice job tonight,” Doherty said. “He’s been pretty solid all year. If we’re going to go anywhere he’s going to have to play like he did tonight.”
Freshman Kevin Tobin blocked a shot in the defensive zone and skated the length of the ice to seal the win with an empty net goal with 42.5 seconds to play.
The Rockets will move on to the next round where they will face fellow Middlesex League foe Melrose – a 4-0 winner over Chelmsford.
“Melrose is a deep and physical team,” Doherty said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us. Melrose beat us 4-2 the first time we played them. It’s going to be a great game.
Four of the five Middlesex League teams in action Wednesday night advanced to the Division I North Quarterfinals, something Doherty took tremendous pride in as a coach in the league.
“I’m thrilled for the Middlesex League teams. Every year you look at the Division I North and there are always Middlesex League teams standing at the end. It’s good for our league.”
ARLINGTON 1, ST. JOHN’S PREP 0
In the late game of the night in Woburn, the Spy Ponders of Arlington won a 1-0 thriller over the St. John’s Prep Eagles.
“Our kids played really hard tonight,” Arlington head coach John Messuri said. “St. John’s is a great team and they were coming so hard. We’re lucky to get out of here with a win.”
After a scoreless first two periods, Arlington scored the only goal of the game 1:17 into the final period. Junior defenseman Justin Nee raced up the left boards and beat a St. John’s Prep defender to the loose puck. He quickly threw the puck out front to a diving Michael Curran who laid out to get his stick on the puck for the score.
“I saw Nee over there and I knew he was going to chip the puck out to me. I just went full speed, laid out and hoped it hit the stick,” said the freshman of his game-winning goal.
“When you’re the underdog like we were, you have to try and get ahead, especially late in the game.”
With the lead, it was up to the Arlington defense and senior goaltender Michael Schiller to stone the Prep attack. The Spy Ponders did a great job of getting sticks in lanes and getting down to block shots, but it was the veteran goalie that stole the show.
Schiller, who entered the game midway through the second period in a set rotation with junior Ryan Cote, made several highlight reel stops.
“We’ve been using two goalies for the last six or seven games. I’m glad we did. Otherwise we’d be giving one of them CPR right now,” joked Messuri of all the shots his two goaltenders faced.
His first huge save came with the game scoreless in the second period when he stuck his left pad out to stop a one-timer. Then he made several terrific saves in the final minutes with the large student contingent chanting his name.
“Schiller was unbelievable, the pucks were just sticking to him,” said Messuri.
Messuri is equally proud of the work ethic and the character his senior goaltender exhibits off the ice as he is with his play between the boards.
“Schiller competes like a son of a gun. The kid has been through a lot in his life. Last year, his father was struggling with Leukemia and he gave his father a bone marrow transplant.”
“Hands down that was the most exciting game. It was probably the best game I’ve ever played in my life,” said Schiller. “That’s the biggest student section we’ve ever had.”
Arlington will face St. John’s (Shrewsbury) on Saturday in the quarterfinals. The Pioneers downed Burlington, 4-0, in another first round game Wednesday night.