By Conor Walsh
---- — GLOUCESTER-- The Rockport hockey team has continued to raise the bar of success over the past five seasons. On Wednesday, Rockport set the bar a little higher but achieving something it has yet to attain during its recent run of success, a Commonwealth Athletic Conference title.
With a 6-5 win over Northeast last night at the Talbot Rink the Vikings finished off the conference season at an unbeaten 7-0-1 (7-7-2 overall) clinching the conference title and the automatic Division 3 North state tournament bid that comes with it.
“We certainly don’t make it easy on ourselves,” Rockport coach Derek Papalegis said. “I thought we did a good job putting pucks in the net, but we struggled defensively. We’ll take it.”
Wednesday night’s game was certainly not easy on the eyes, as both squads had trouble in their own end, but when the final horn sounded Rockport had simply taken care of business.
Heading into the second frame tied at 1-1, the game took a crazy turn as both teams ramped up the offense for a seven combined second period goals.
Northeast took a 2-1 lead 5:47 into the frame when Jonah Hadley scored his second goal of the game on a soft backhand shot in front of the Vikings goal. Rockport, however, evened things up just 18 seconds later when Mike Tupper put home a Josh Guertin rebound after a lengthy possession in the offensive zone.
The Vikings struck again just 32 seconds later when Alex Amoroso walked out of the corner and in front of the Golden Knights goal untouched for the score and a 3-2 Vikings lead.
Northeast tied the score back up just under two minutes later on Hadley’s third goal of the game, a blast from the slot. The teams would trade goals again late in the frame from Guertin and Steve Czarnota to make it 4-4 before John Tucker ended the frame by giving the Vikings a 5-4 lead blowing past the Northeast defense and scoring on a nifty backhand.
Mike Foster’s rebound goal made it 6-4 early in the third and had to hold off a final Northeast push to preserve the 6-5 win.
For the first two periods, especially the second period, the Vikings dictated play despite the fact that each team trotted out some heavy legs throughout the game’s start.
But Northeast was able to hang around, thanks largely to Hadley’s efforts and some shaky goaltending by the usually steady Colby Foster.
As the Golden Knights pushed to overcome the third-period deficit they faced after (Mike) Foster’s goal, his twin brother found his usual form in net.
Northeast peppered Foster with 14 shots in the third period, and while Czarnota pumped one past Foster with 1:59 to play, he stood tall to help the Vikings secure the victory and the conference title.
“Colby wasn’t his best in the first two periods,” Papalegis said. “I challenged him before the third period and he really responded and came out great in the third.”
It was far from a pretty game for Rockport, who let the game fall into a pond hockey-like track meet despite a clear talent edge over the Golden Knights.
In the end, though, that didn’t matter, and the Vikings had enough to win the track meet and secure their first-ever CAC title.
“We’ve had our struggles in non-league play this year, left a couple of games out there that we’d like to have back,” Papalegis said. “But every league game, these guys really came to play. They should be really proud of this.”
The Vikings will wrap up the regular season next week, when they’ll play a postponed game against Revere on Monday and finish things up with a huge non-league test against Medfield.
Rockport 6 Northeast 5
at Dorothy Talbot Rink, Gloucester
First Period: N, Jonah Hadley (Anthony Aresco) 5:32; R, Mike Tupper (un.).
Second Period: N, Hadley (Mike Wesley) 5:47; R, Tupper (Josh Guertin, Alex Amoroso) 6:05; R, Amoroso (Jon Ferrante) 6:37; N, Hadley (un.); R, Guertin (Jake O’Maley, Ferrante) 10:16; N, Steve Czarnota (Hadley) 13:24; R, John Tucker (O’Maley) 13:42.
Third Period: R, Mike Foster (Dane Tolstrup, Kyle Nelson) ppg, 4:44; N, Czarnota (Wesley) ppg, 13:01.
Saves: N, Joe Henry 19; R, Colby Foster 19.
Records: N, 6-8-3; R, 7-7-2.