By Conor Walsh
---- — GLOUCESTER — On paper, last night’s matchup between the Gloucester and Newburyport hockey teams was a mismatch.
While the Fishermen have come on strong over recent weeks and were pushing to get back to .500, Newburyport had established itself among the brass of Division 2 with just one loss — and that coming at the hands of Division 1 state frontrunner Springfield Cathedral.
But for the majority of the game, the teams skated evenly in what has grown into a spirited non-league rivalry over the years. The five minutes where the Clippers separated themselves, however, proved to be the difference. Newburyport exploded for three goals in the first 2:26 of the second period and never looked back, cruising to a 4-2 victory at the Talbot Rink.
“We had five minutes of poor hockey and other than that we skated with them,” Gloucester coach Don Lowe said. “Newburyport might be undefeated, I’m not sure, but it’s a good sign.”
After entering the first intermission with the score knotted at 1-1, Newburyport coach Paul Yameen was visibly upset with his team as he walked to the locker room.
Whatever was said during that break, though, did the trick. The Clippers (7-1-4) came flying out of the gates to start the second period, taking the lead just 19 seconds into the frame when Nick Mombello banged a rebound past Gloucester goalie Owen Parisi (31 saves).
Newburyport kept the heat on, and 1:19 later converted on another rebound, this time off the stick of Tim Brennan.
And by the time the next shift concluded with Ben Ventura splitting the Gloucester defense and burying a breakaway goal, the damage had been done. It was fewer than three minutes into the period and any momentum Gloucester had built was a distant memory.
“Just not doing their jobs, that’s all,” Lowe said. “We let them get away a couple of times on breakaways and just couldn’t keep it out of the net.”
The first break fell Gloucester’s way well before either team stepped foot on the ice, as bus trouble delayed Newburyport’s arrival. The Clippers finally got to the rink 40 minutes before puck drop, but with the time crunch they were unable to go through their normal warmup.
It showed. Newburyport was sluggish from the opening puck drop, and Gloucester came out with a purpose.
The Fishermen took advantage of the Clippers’ dead legs when Casey Noyes scooped up an errant Newburyport pass and ripped a shot past Clipper goalie Alex Buckley to give the Fishermen the lead just 59 seconds into the game.
From there, Gloucester kept the pressure on, and were it not for Buckley (25 saves), the Fishermen could have easily extended the lead. But Buckley stood tall, turning away a breakaway attempt by Pete Mondello and holding off a flurry of rebounds after two Mike Muniz shots from the point to keep the deficit at one.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but our bus was screwed up so we got going late,” Yameen said. “We got off the bus 40 minutes before the game, so we didn’t get our normal warmup in, but you know what? This is game 11, so they’ve got to be able to adapt. Not very happy with the way we played.”
Thanks to Buckley, Newburyport weathered the storm and finally got one halfway through the first period when Ventura (two goals) got his first of the night on a rebound.
Ventura’s goal set the stage for Newburyport’s huge second period, where the Clippers outshot their hosts, 19-2.
In the third period, though, the Clippers reverted to their first-period form. Again, Buckley was there to bail them out — outside of a flukey goal from Gloucester’s Alex Enes that rattled in off the endboards in the final minute.
The damage had already been done, though, and for a Fishermen squad that’s struggled to score at times, a three-goal third-period deficit was too much to overcome.
For Gloucester (4-6-1), last night was a step in the right direction despite the final result.
And on the other bench, it was a win for Newburyport. But the two points in the standings were about the only positive Yameen took from it.
“Pretty lackadaisical at times on our part,” Yameen said. “We only skated in spurts, but we got the win so we’ll take it. We’re a work in progress. We’ll continue to work hard and see what happens.”