, Gloucester, MA

February 8, 2009

Surprising Vikings headed to state tourney

By Nick Curcuru

GLOUCESTER — As the Rolling Stones song says: "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need."

That saying held true yesterday for the Rockport hockey team in their matchup with Amesbury. The Vikings didn't get the win they wanted, but they got the 2-2 tie they needed to qualify for the Division 3 state tournament. Rockport (8-6-2) will be playing in the postseason for the first time in eight years (2000-2001).

"I'm so proud of this team," Vikings head coach Derek Papalegis said. "I'm most proud because they've earned it. There have been two full generations of players to play here and not play in the post season, these guys have a lot to be proud of."

For Rockport senior tri-captain Sean Golden, who had never experienced a winning season in hockey until now, it's a dream come true.

"It feels unbelievable, one of the best feelings I have felt playing sports," Golden said. "We fought hard for this every game and to make it is incredible, I'm ecstatic."

Junior tri-captain Pat Hoffman says the Vikings success is all about a change in attitude. Hoffman says the team got too used to losing, and credits Papalegis for turning it around.

"Coach Papalegis told us at the beginning of the year that winning is a habit, and we took that to heart," Hoffman said. "At the beginning of the season we didn't believe we could do this, but once we started to believe in ourselves it all turned around, every game was winnable. It's sort of unbelievable knowing what it feels like."

Papalegis echoed Hoffman's sentiment.

"I think they got used to losing and it was ok to them," Papalegis said. "But they turned it around and motivated themselves, they are a great group of kids."

The Vikings also stressed the fact that they are a close-knit unit. With 5:30 a.m. practices and a schedule that has them travel all over the state, the team grew close over the season. Their chemistry off the ice has really helped them on the ice.

"We really came together as a team this year," Golden said. "We all clicked. Everybody has to endure the early practices and the tough schedule, it made us stronger as a team."

When it came to the teams tourney clinching tie, they got the job done they way they have been all season, grinding out a win and coming from behind.

Trailing 2-1 heading into the third period, Vikings leading scorer Cam Smith tied up the score with just under 10 minutes to play. Hoffman furiously drove the puck into the offensive zone and through the puck to the front of the net into a scrum of five players. In the end Smith was able to sneak the puck past Indians goalie Matt Irwin for the tie.

"That's how we play," Golden said. "Every game is a grind for us, and it feels great that it's paid off."

Rockport still needed to survive the final 10 minutes. After a back-and-fourth nine and a half minutes, the Indians turned up the pressure in the final half minute of the game and nearly scored as the game ended, but the Vikings were able to hold on.

Following the final horn the team mobbed goalie Nile Halvorson while the Rockport faithful held up a sign that read "It's Tournament Time."

"This was a total team effort just as it's been all year long," Papalegis said. "It got a little scary at the end but when it was all said and done we did what we needed to do."

It did not start well for the Vikings as the Indians got on the board just 33 seconds into the game when forward Zach Pizzo tipped in a pass from Matt Lambert just after a faceoff.

Rockport, however, would get going shortly after, dominating the rest of theframe and outshooting Amesbury 14-3.

The Vikings had a number of scoring chances, only to be turned away by Irwin. Nick Fabbri, Matt Graves and Zach Hill were all stopped on the door step by Irwin, who was preserving a 1-0 lead at the time.

Rockport's hard work would pay off with seven minutes to play in the period when Hill fed Hoffman with a perfect centering pass from behind the net to tie the score at one, where it stood after the first period.

Amesbury would take the lead while on the power play in the second, thanks to a little luck. A Vikings defenseman was trying to clear the puck out of the offensive zone while behind the goal line, but the puck inexplicably hit Halvorson in the back and went into the net giving the Indians a 2-1 lead. Matt Enaire was credited with the goal as he was the last Indian to touch the puck.

But as they have all year, the Vikings found a way to get the job done, and this time it got them into the postseason.

"It's nice to clinch but we aren't done yet," Golden said. "We still have to go out every night and play hard to improve our seed."

Rockport 2, Amesbury 2

at Dorothy Talbot Rink, Gloucester

Amesbury110— 2

Rockport101— 2

First period: A, Zach Pizzo (Matt Lambert, Christian Reyes) :33; R, Pat Hoffman (Zach Hill) 7:56.

Second period: A, Matt Enaire (un.) ppg, 4:12.

Third period: R, Cam Smith (Hill) 5:14.

Saves: A, Matt Irwin 30; R, Nile Halvorson 17.

Records: R, 8-6-2.