By Conor Walsh
---- — SALEM — The Gloucester hockey team has come a long way since its season-opening loss to Danvers.
Starting the season 0-4-1 after that initial loss, the Fishermen appeared destined for another postseason absence. Since then, though, the Fishermen have turned it on, and they entered Saturday’s rematch with the Falcons with a far different look than they had two months ago.
But one of the things that has carried Gloucester’s charge back up the NEC standings — complete-game efforts — was missing Saturday, and as a result, the game’s outcome was the same as the first time around.
The Fishermen came out flat to open the game and Danvers notched three goals in a 2:33 first-period stretch on the way to a 4-1 win.
“We let those three goals go up in the first period and that’s hard to come back from,” Gloucester coach Don Lowe said. “It was a 1-1 game the rest of the way. We only played two solid periods and the first period killed us.”
Saturday marked Danvers’ Senior Night, and the lull created as the Falcons honored their seven seniors translated to the ice. Both teams started the first period sluggish, and despite some obvious bad blood between the two teams, the game struggled to find a rhythm.
That’s until the Falcons got rolling. With 5:28 left to play in the first period, a lengthy Danvers (8-4-1) possession ended when a puck squirted from behind the net onto Jay Calcagno’s stick in the slot, where he collected it and fired a shot through traffic to the back of the net.
Less than a minute later, Danvers sniper Joe Strangie forced a turnover and ripped a shot past Gloucester goaltender Owen Parisi (32 saves) to spot the Falcons a quick 2-0 lead.
Not long later, an apparently harmless shot from the top of the circles from Calcagno got past Parisi, a goal he’d no-doubt want back, and the Fishermen (6-7-1) were in a hole they couldn’t dig out of.
The game got chippy from there, and both teams split the second period between the power play and the penalty kill. But while Gloucester continued to be outshot by the Falcons -- who notched 36 shots to Gloucester’s 14 over the course of the game -- the Fishermen had effectively leveled the ice in a scoreless second.
Gloucester’s Alex Webb banged home a power-play goal midway through the third period to give the Fishermen some life. They’d simply dug themselves too big a hole, though, and when Danvers’ Adam Merry buried a wrap-around goal with less than three minutes to play, any Gloucester comeback hopes were dashed.
The Fishermen were again without senior captain defenseman Mike Muniz, who missed his second-straight game with an undisclosed injury. His absence helps explain the Fishermen’s offensive woes Saturday, as they’ve been forced to bump Webb, their leading scorer, back to the blue line to eat up many of Muniz’s minutes.
Webb’s proven to be plenty capable on the blue line, and Jared Favazza’s been impressive in Webb’s usual second line spot centering Casey Noyes and Matt Lane.
But for a team without much depth, any injury to a key player can be crippling.
“We missed Muniz on the blue line,” Lowe said. “We’re thin on the blue line and not having Mike has hurt us. Putting Webb back there, maybe that’s hurt the offense a little bit, but we need somebody else to step up.
“We just don’t get enough shots on net, period,” he said. “We had 15 shots for the game. That’s just not enough for the win.”