By Nick Curcuru
---- — STONEHAM — Rockport head hockey coach Derek Papalegis beefed up his team’s non-conference schedule this season with hopes that it would pay dividends come tournament time.
After the tenth seeded Vikings performance in their 4-1 win over No. 7 Wayland in the Division 3 North First Round at Stoneham Arena Thursday, it’s pretty safe to say that Rockport’s tough schedule has paid off in the long run.
Rockport (9-8-2) looked comfortable playing in a nip and tuck contest and its composure and execution down the stretch ended up being the difference. Senior captain Mike Tupper’s goal with just under 10 minutes to play in the third period broke a 1-1 tie and essentially spring boarded the Vikings into the sectional quarterfinals where they will square off with No. 2 Marblehead (17-5).
The game is scheduled for Saturday back at Stoneham Arena, time 7 p.m.
“We played a tough schedule for games like this during this time of year,” Papalegis said. “Every game in the tournament in so tough and we know that. We had been in those tough games before and we were able to grind out a win tonight.”
Senior goalie Colby Foster was outstanding in the win turning in one of his best if not his best performance of the year with 31 saves. Wayland got one puck past Foster in the first period and from there on in the senior net minder turned away every shot and scoring opportunity that came his way. With Rockport struggling early in the game Foster was there to make several key stops. In the third period Foster was also there in the clutch to thwart a desperate Wayland attack.
“Colby came to play tonight,” Papalegis said. “He is a big reason why we were able to hang around early and he was great in the third period too.”
With 10 minutes to play and the score tied at 1-1, Rockport was facing a face-off in its own zone. The Vikings went to a set play off the face-off and it worked to perfection. After a face-off win junior defenseman Jon Ferrante gathered the puck and put up a long pass intended for Tupper, who broke down the ice after switching from center to right wing.
Ferrante hit Tupper in stride and the senior captain raced down the right boards, putting on the breaks in the face-off circle and letting go a hard slap shot that beat Wayland goalie Ben Boschetto for a 2-1 Rockport lead.
“It was a great face-off win and a great pass from Ferrante,” Tupper said. “I didn’t think I could beat their defense wide so I stopped and let a slap shot go. Luckily it went in.”
There was still plenty of game left to be played and Wayland predictably picked up the aggression while looking for the game tying goal. Rockport, however, stayed poised and took every shot the Warriors thew at them.
Senior captain Josh Guertin gave Rockport an insurance goal with 56 seconds to play and Jake O’Maley capped off the scoring with an empty net goal with 33 seconds to play to seal the 4-1 win. The Vikings win avenges a 4-1 loss at the hands of Wayland in 2011.
Early on it appeared as if the Vikings were going to have trouble with Wayland’s relentless pressure. The Warriors came out flying to start the game earning scoring chance after scoring chance finally putting a shot past Foster 5:12 into the game. Jack Brady scored the Wayland goal after taking a feed in the slot from Roby Williams, who forced a Rockport turnover.
“They came out ready to play and we didn’t have a great start,” Papalegis said. “But Colby was great early and we really settled down after that and ended up with one of our best wins of the season.”
Tupper tied the score at 1-1 with 5:32 to play in the first when his slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle found the back of the net. Tupper was set up by Kyle Nelson, who made a nifty move carrying the puck through the neutral zone before dishing off to Tupper.
“We just wanted to get shots to the net,” Tupper said. “They play great defense but we knew we could score on their goalie. Coach lit a fire under us after the slow start and we went out and battled. We can grind out wins against anybody.”
Rockport now turns its attention to its quarterfinal tilt with Marblehead, another familiar face. It seems the Vikings and Magicians always seem to meet come tournament time as this weekend’s clash will be the fourth postseason meeting in the last five years between the two teams. Marblehead won the first two meetings in 2009 and 2010 but Rockport got revenge last season with a 2-0 win in the Division 3 North Quarterfinals.
“We are going to have to play better than we did today to beat them, they’re a good team,” Papalegis said about Marblehead. “We are definitely the underdog. We have been hearing that this section is all Marblehead and we are looking to pull out another win like last season.”
No. 10 Rockport 4 No. 7 Wayland 1
at Stoneham Arena, Stoneham
Rockport 1 0 3
Wayland 1 0 0
First Period: W, Jake Brady (Roby Williams) 5:12; R, Mike Tupper (Kyle Nelson, Jon Ferrante) 9:37.
Second Period: No scoring
Third Period: R, Tupper (Ferrante) 5:13; R, Josh Guertin (Nelson) 14:04; R, Jake O’Maley (Alex Amoroso, Guertin) 14:27.
Saves: R, Colby Foster 31; W, Ben Boschetto 14
Records: R, 9-8-2; W, 9-8-4