BOSTON — There was no denying the underdog.
After defeating the Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5 seeds in the North sectional, Reading defeated the South’s No. 1 seed Braintree, 4-1, to win the MIAA Division 1 state championship on Sunday afternoon at the TD Garden.
“Being a 12 seed and defeating a one, three, four and five, that was crazy,” junior forward Sean Verrier said. “We knew that once we got here, we had the momentum and actually had a chance to prove everyone wrong
“Nothing feels better than proving people,” senior forward Mike Thomson added,” Every round we were predicted to lose, but we just kept going.”
Four different players scored for the Rockets and Ian Lapham was terrific between the pipes as Reading won its first title of any kind since its 2008 Super 8 championship.
“We knew getting here was awesome, but we made it this far,” Thomson said. “We knew we couldn’t stop there. We had to finish.”
The Wamps of Braintree had a great run through the South sectional after a tough and controversial defeat in the Super 8 play-in game, but the puck luck didn’t go their way Sunday.
“The puck didn’t bounce our way tonight,” Braintree head coach Dave Fasano said. “Take nothing away from Reading because they’re obviously a really good hockey team. They’re very well-coached.
“We came up a little short, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. I’m really proud of my guys.”
Early storm weathered: Braintree, a team with 13 seniors, seemed to have less nerves right off the bat and had several quality scoring chances in the opening five minutes of the game.
“We’ve talked about that throughout this tournament run. That’s been our specialty – coming out and getting some goals early,” said Fasano. “We had our chances tonight and the puck just didn’t go in the net,” added the coach.
“[Braintree] outshot us handily in the first period. We definitely had a few better chances towards the end of that period.”
The Wamps had a good chance on a two-on-one odd man rush, and then just minutes later Gino LaRossa had a golden opportunity on a breakaway after a home run pass from James Flaherty.
Reading’s Ian Lapham stood tall and the Rockets were able to escape the opening minutes unscathed.
“If I play hard right away, that gets me in the zone,” Lapham said. “That’s the most important part of the game. If you play hard through there, it gets you in the zone.”
Tide turns red: After withstanding the initial push from Braintree, Reading took advantage of its opportunities to change the tide of the game.
Two of the Rockets eight seniors connected on a beautiful transition play to open the scoring at the 7:13 mark. Mike Thomson carried the puck down the left side and into the zone, waiting patiently for a passing lane. He finally found one and zipped the puck to Jake Barbera who wasted no time firing the puck into the net.
“I squeezed by the defender and saw Barbera there, he just put it home,” said Thomson.
Reading extended its lead on the power just under four minutes later. Mike Seibold got the puck to Sean Verrier who fed Matt Thomson on the left half boards. The freshman took a step into the circle and slapped a laser along the ice and past Braintree goaltender Nick Anson.
Ward gives hope: With Braintree swarming and looking to get on the board, senior Nick Ward finally came through on a delayed penalty at the 10:14 mark of the second period. He picked up the puck along the end boards and skated out to the circle before lifting a laser over the glove of Lapham.
“I saw a seam. They were allowing us to come out a little. I just took it and ripped it on net,” explained Ward.
“I thought when we got it 2-1 we had a little bit of momentum, but the next shift or two killed us,” said Fasano.
State title iced: Reading regained its two-goal lead a little more than two minutes after Ward got the Wamps on the board. It was another goal in transition for the Rockets. The same three players involved in the scoring of the second goal came through again. Matt Thompson fed Seibold, who delivered a terrific pass right on the stick of Verrier. The junior wasted no time in snapping the shot off and past Anson before the Braintree goaltender could react.
“I actually thought Seibold was going to shoot that one,” joked Verrier. “I got it out of the corner of my eye. The defenseman overplayed me and I just shifted over and put one on net.”
“It was a great play going up ice by Seibold, we’ve been telling all our forwards all year to shoot quickly,” said Doherty. “A kid like Verrier can really shoot the puck. It was a great play and a great goal.”
Mike Thomson added the icing on top of the cake when he buried an empty-net goal with 21.4 seconds to play. He intercepted an errant Braintree pass and spun around for a quick shot into the back of the cage.
Lapham’s big stage: After backing up Evan Morelli for two seasons, Lapham finally had his season to shine between the pipes for the Rockets. The senior came up huge throughout the tournament, but his superb play in the first period allowed Reading to stay in the game until its offense could capitalize at the other end.
“He was fabulous, he was terrific tonight,” said Doherty comparing Lapham to current UNH senior and Reading alum Jeff Wyer. “I’m thrilled for him. He backed up a very good goalie for two years. It was almost Wyer-esque.”
Lapham made several stops on point blank chances, but one he made towards the end of the opening period was his most memorable save, according to the future Brown University student.
“At the very end of the first period, the puck was in the corner,” Lapham said. “I couldn’t really see the puck, but I knew I had to get out front. It hit me right in the left shoulder. If they scored that goal it could have been a completely different game.”