By Nick Curcuru
---- — In order to advance in the Division 3 North State Tournament, the Rockport hockey team is going to have to go through the defending sectional champs.
The Vikings (8-8-2) drew the No. 10 seed in Division 3 North and will square off with No. 7 Wayland (9-7-4) on Thursday at Stoneham Arena (5:00 p.m.) in the Division 3 North First Round.
Rockport and Wayland have met recently in the postseason. Wayland skated away with a 4-1 win in the Division 3 North Quarterfinal in 2011. It went on to win the section in 2012 topping Bedford, the team that knocked out Rockport in the semifinals.
“We have a challenge ahead of us,” Rockport head coach Derek Papalegis said. “They were the team that won the North section last year and they knocked us out two years ago. We need to play our best, it’s going to be a battle.”
Rockport enters the tournament after an up and down regular season where it continuously hung around the .500 mark. The Vikings, however, stepped up their out of conference schedule and as a result enter the tournament as a battle tested team.
In 10 games against state tournament bound teams this season the Vikings put together a 3-5-2 record. Rockport has gotten used to playing in close games and has learned how to grind out wins against quality opposition.
“Our record isn’t as great as we want to it be on paper, but we’ve been playing well lately,” Papalegis said. “We played a lot of good teams this year and I did that intentionally. I wanted to throw them into the fire to see what they’re made of. See how we play in a tight game where we will pay for our mistakes. I think that we’re ready to go.”
Wayland also enters the tournament a battle tested team playing in Division 3 of the Merrimack Valley/Dual County League. Wayland played 13 out of its 20 games against state tournament teams sporting a 5-5-3 record against those opponents including a win over No. 1 seed Lowell.
The Warriors enter the tournament sporting a stingy defense that allows just under two and a half goals per game while scoring just under three and a half. In the teams’ 2011 meeting Wayland’s defense showed just how good it was stifling the Vikings offense after allowing an early goal en route to a 4-1 win.
“They played really tight defense and we had a lot of trouble with their pressure and getting into the zone,” Papalegis said. “They’re going to be ready to play.”
It will not get any easier for the winner of Thursday’s tilt as it will move on to the quarterfinals to face No. 2 Marblehead. Rockport has faced Marblehead in the tournament three times over the last four years beating them 2-0 in the quarterfinals last year, avenging a pair of blowout losses.
In each of the last five seasons Rockport has continued to raise the bar in terms of success. First it was picking up a tournament win, then it was making it all the way to the semifinals, this season it was winning the Commonwealth Athletic Conference. Rockport is hoping to raise the bar again this season with another tournament run.
“Every year it seems like the players achieve a new goal,” Papalegis said. “They want to raise the bar again. You can tell at practice they’re itching to go. It’s tournament time.”