MILTON, Mass. -- When you break it down, from a hockey perspective, there is not a lot of separation between Kimball Union Academy and Milton Academy.
Both squads have strong histories, but in addition, each continue to stockpile their respective rosters with some of the best, young talent around.
Ranked among the upper-echelon of the New England Prep School standings, fittingly, these two powers squared off against one another Friday night as part of the first day of the 51st Flood-Marr Holiday Tournament at Roberts Rink. After falling behind by a pair of goals in the second period, KUA demonstrated some much-needed resiliency after storming back to deadlock this tilt at the end of regulation. A five minute overtime ensued, in which neither club was able to light the lamp, resulting in a 2-2 tie in this round robin spectacle.
"We didn't get the result we were looking for," said Milton head coach Paul Cannata. "But at the same time, you realize that sometimes things go your way and other times they don't. There is still a lot of hockey to play this weekend. Kimball a very good team and we like to think that we are OK, too. After this game, both of us are still undefeated. So if those are our only problems right now, then I like those kind of problems."
The Mustangs now sit at 5-0-1. They will lace up the skates again tomorrow, facing off against defending two-time tournament champion Salisbury School at 1 p.m. The 8-0-1 Wildcats will take on Deerfield Academy at 3 p.m. The finale of this high profile event will be Sunday, with the championship game among the eight participating schools, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.
The way this one started out, you might've thought KUA would roll. Throughout the opening period, the Wildcats pulverized the Milton zone. KUA, coming off a 5-0 victory over Salisbury just hours earlier, showed no mercy in its quest to grab the early lead. Generating space, once inside the offensive zone, the Wildcats continuously fired shot after shot towards Mustangs goaltender Ethan Domokos. But the junior held his ground, swatting all 14 attempts aside.
"I was really impressed with Domokos' game," KUA head coach Tim Whitehead said. "I felt had we finished a couple of our chances in that period, we could have potentially changed the complexion of the game. He gave them an opportunity and the rest of the team certainly took it thereafter."
Domokos' performance seemed to light a spark within Milton's stagnant offense once the middle period started. After putting up just three shots in the opening frame, the Mustangs began to open things up offensively. After sitting back and allowing KUA to dictate the tempo for the first 15 minutes, the Mustangs changed up their strategy, focusing on a more-attacking style. The move would pay off.
Junior forward Bobby Benier gave Milton a 1-0 lead with a power play goal coming at 2:37. The Hingham native, left all by his lonesome skating into the crease area, took a feed from Mitchel Donovan and slipped his shot past Wildcats netminder, and former Austin Prep standout, Elijah Harris. The Brown University commit wasn't tested all that often, finishing with 14 saves.
With the tables now reversed in Milton's favor, the Mustangs, who knocked off Deerfield Academy earlier in the day, refused to surrender its aggressive style for the remainder of the period. Then, at 10:27, they would jump out to a two goal thanks to a rebound tally from Spencer Fox.
Milton came out for the third a bit cautious in its attempts to not give up a soft goal or commit a mistake that would give KUA new life. That approach proved effective over the first half of the frame. However, it turned into an albatross soon later. With just over seven minutes to go, Wildcats senior defenseman Dennis Cesana, with the puck on his stick, flew in uncovered towards the goalmouth before lifting a backhand shot past Domokos (30 saves) to make it 2-1. With time now their enemy, the Wildcats sunk into desperation mode. Maintaining a steady progression to move the puck up ice, KUA was literally throwing everything it could on Domokos. With 2:57 remaining, those attempts were rewarded. A Jack Griffin blast from 20 feet out just happened to carom perfectly off of the back dasher and onto the stick of Roope Hirvonen. The sophomore flipped his shot into the wide open left side of the net to knot the contest.
"We played an 11 o'clock game and then we quickly had to turn around and play at 5 o'clock," Whitehead said. "So energy-wise I didn't feel we were at our best. But I thought we recaptured the game in the third period. We kept it simple and tried to get pucks deep and get pucks towards the net. I liked how we battled back. It would've been nice to have won it, but at the same time, we knew this would not come easy against a very good Milton team and it didn't. It was a heck of a game though. There were a lot of positives we can take from this which I hope we can bring forward with us."
As the last couple of minutes of regulation ticked down, nothing more was settled. During the overtime frame, the Wildcats had the best chance to score. With 2:35 to go, Ben Finkelstein's blast, from just inside the blue line, clanged off the left post. Following that, neither club would threatened again.
"You wake up tomorrow and get back at it," Cannata said. "We play another good team but in this tournament you are always playing a good team. We have a good group of kids here who react in a positive way. We didn't lose much from last year, so if those kids coming back were five percent better then I felt we would have a decent team. Things have been nice so far. But now we will see where we go from here."