By Nick Curcuru
---- — It’s scenario the Rockport hockey team has gotten used to over the last five years; a state tournament meeting with a highly touted Marblehead team.
This year is no different. After a hard fought, gutsy 4-1 win over No. 7 Wayland in the Division 3 North First Round, No. 10 Rockport (9-8-2) punched its ticket to the quarterfinals and another date with No. 2 Marblehead (17-5) tonight at Stoneham Arena (7:00 p.m.).
Tonight will mark the fourth postseason meeting in the last five seasons between the two teams. Marblehead pounded Rockport by a combined score of 17-1 in 2009 (10-1) and 2010 (7-0) but the Vikings got revenge on the Magicians with a 2-0 win in last season’s Division 3 North Quarterfinals. In the most recent meeting Vikings goalie Colby Foster pitched an impressive shutout while Mike Tupper delivered both Rockport goals.
The winner of tonight’s tilt will move on to the Division 3 North Semifinals and will meet the winner of this afternoon’s game between No. 3 Swampscott and No. 6 St. Joseph’s Prep. The two teams play directly before Rockport and Marblehead at Stoneham Arena (4:30 p.m.).
Marblehead, champions on the Northeastern Conference South, enter the tournament as the favorite in Division 3 North, but the underdog role sits just fine with Rockport.
“They’re a great team and they have a lot of hype this season,” Rockport head coach Derek Papalegis said. “We always seem to run into Marblehead. We are hoping to turn in a good performance like we did last season and beat them again.”
The Magicians certainly enter the matchup with tons of hype, but that hype has been well earned. Over the last half decade Marblehead has been the team to beat in all of Division 3 North winning the Division 3 State Championship in 2011 and the sectional title in 2010.
This year’s Marblehead squad enters the postseason after an outstanding regular season where it was unbeaten in conference play and posted 17 wins while playing a tough schedule. The Magician’s season was nothing short of dominant as they scored 102 goals while allowing just 31, that’s an average score of 5-1.5 per game. In NEC South play Marblehead outscored opponents by a staggering 57-5 margin.
Marblehead can light the lamp with the best of them as is evident in its five players with at least 20 points in Tom Koopman (36 points), Trip Franzese (31 points), Ian Maag (29 points), Matt Koopman (28 points) and Ty Bates (20 points) all score at least a point per game.
That deep offensive talent is surrounded by talent on the blue line and a goalie in Harrison Young that is sporting a goals against average of less than one (0.80).
While Marblehead is certainly a juggernaut, that won’t scare the Vikings tonight, as they have a battle tested team of their own that is coming off of their best win of the season against Wayland in the First Round.
Rockport was firing on all cylinders in Thursday’s first round win and it will need to be just as sharp if not more sharp tonight to pull off a win. Foster kept the Vikings afloat during a rocky start and continued to turn away shot after shot as the game went on en route to one of his best performances of the season.
Rockport’s blue line also came to play turning in a steady and rock solid effort thwarting a relentless and quick Wayland attack. The first line of Tupper, Josh Guertin and Alex Amoroso, all 20 point scorers themselves, also took care of business scoring three of the team’s four goals.
The Vikings are a tough out for anybody come tournament time given their big game experience and scrappy mentality. While the team knows it will have its hands full with Marblehead, it also enters the game with confidence thanks to last years win and last round’s win over Wayland.
“We played well after a slow start (Thursday) and we will need to play even better (tonight),” Papalegis said. “The team will be ready to play. We are the underdogs but that role suits us just fine, we have to beat the best to move on and we are up to the challenge.”