WOBURN, Mass. -- On more than one occasion Reading head coach Mark Doherty was breathing a sigh of relief. Even after several minutes had passed following his team's 5-3 comeback victory over Melrose in Saturday afternoon's Division 1 North quarterfinal at Ned O'Brien Rink, Doherty was still mopping his brow.
Down a goal after two periods, the Rockets were still in search of that elusive tying marker midway through the third. Then lightning struck quickly and often, and as a result, changed the entire complexion of this contest for good.
Senior forward Mike Thomson picked off an errant inside the Red Raiders zone and snapped a shot from the left circle past goaltender Tyler Brown at 7:25 to tie matters at 2 apiece. Roughly four minutes later, the comeback trail continued. James Donaghey, a senior, and junior Sean Verrier scored just nine seconds apart to put Reading ahead to stay.
"Melrose is a scary opponent," said Doherty. "They are big, physical and have a lot of athletes. It started to get a little tense on our bench after they went up 2-0 on us in the first period. I just told our kids to settle down because I knew we were just going to keep fighting. We knew we had enough talent but we just needed to keep fighting."
The fourth-seeded Rockets (14-8-2) advance to Wednesday's semifinal versus No. 1 St. Mary's of Lynn beginning at 7:10 p.m. from the Chelmsford Forum. No. 4 Melrose closes its season at 13-5-5.
After starting the game a bit on the flat side, the Red Raiders began to pick up the tempo midway through the opening period. By that time, Reading had already peppered Brown (15 saves) with five shots to Melrose's none. However, Brown was able to turn aside all and keep the game scoreless.
It didn't stay that way for long though. The Red Raiders started to generate some scoring opportunities once inside Reading's zone. Junior Brian McGlaughlin, on the power play, capitalized on his chance, lighting the lamp at 7:28 with a rebound goal. Then, only 30 seconds later, Melrose added to its margin with McGlaughlin again doing the honors. Standing in front of Rockets goalie Ian Lapham, the forward hurled a hard wrist shot between the senior's leg pads to send the Red Raiders into the first intermission on top 2-0.
In a contest filled with physicality up and down the ice, Reading finally sliced into the deficit at 1:49 of the middle frame. Thomson picked off a John Morreale pass just in front of the blue line and fired a point-blank laser past an unsuspecting Brown to make it 2-1.
"(Thomson) is one of the more-talented kids we've had here," Doherty said. "He's always had the ability but was sort of a late bloomer. He has tremendous talent. He is one of the best forwards in the state. Clearly his first goal in the second period got us back in this game."
That would be all the scoring in the period as Lapham (15 saves) came up with several key stops to deny Melrose a chance to pad its total.
Despite trailing by a goal, the Rockets knew they had the firepower to overtake the Red Raiders. But early in the third, they couldn't buy a goal as Brown continued to hold his ground. But Reading never backed down. Once Thomson converted his steal into a tying score, the opening of the flood gates soon followed.
Donaghey's goal, at 11:42, came off a rebound as the forward went low glove side. On the play, Melrose never picked up Donaghey, who was left unattended as he made the shot just in front of the crease. Looking stunned after watching their lead evaporate, Verrier grabbed a loose puck and was allowed to skate in alone on Brown before lining wrist shot under the catching glove at 11:51, putting the Rockets in front 4-2.
"Those two goals were huge obviously," Doherty said. "It changed the whole game."
The Red Raiders needed to regroup in a hurry to keep their playoff aspirations alive. They did just that as senior Eric Mercer, standing just inside his own blue line, blasted a shot through traffic past Lapham 5-hole bringing Melrose to within one at 12:53. But with time ticking down to under a minute and Brown pulled for the extra attacker, the Red Raiders could draw no further. Verrier added insult to injury by striking for an empty net goal with two seconds left.
"We just stuck together because we knew we could win this game," said Thomson. "We got that first goal and they just kept coming after that. We felt we were the better team and just went out there and played hard. With each goal we were getting more and more momentum and it kept going from there."