The Gloucester and Westfield hockey teams took it to the limit in Friday’s Cape Ann Savings Bank Holiday Tournament opener at Talbot Rink.
In the fifth round of a shootout, and still tied with neither team coming close to scoring, Gloucester head coach Derek Geary went with his gut and called on sophomore defenseman Nick Rapchuck, who hadn’t played a shift all night, as his fifth shooter.
Rapchuck ended up rewarding his coach’s confidence in him as he went high blocker side and put it bar down for the lone shootout goal, sending the Fishermen to a spot in Saturday’s tournament final (8 p.m.) against the winner of Friday’s late game between Marblehead and Beverly.
Although Gloucester advances in the tournament, the game officially goes down as a 2-2 draw on each team’s record, meaning Gloucester is now 0-2-2 on the season.
According to Rapchuck, that was his signature move that got him the winning goal.
“All my teammates knew what I was going to do, that was my go to,” Rapchuck said. “There was nothing like the feeling when it went in. I was just happy to see the ice and to get the chance to shoot in that situation, I love to shoot the puck.”
So what made Geary go to a fourth pairing defenseman with the game on the line? His performance in practice.
“We do shootouts a lot at the end of practice and it’s just a fun little thing,” he said. “But I pay attention to who scores and Rapchuck is good at them. It was a fun finish to a good game.”
Geary was also quick to credit his team’s effort and hustle for the entirety of the game. In a back-and-forth contest, the Fishermen were pressing for the winning goal until the final buzzer.
“I’m very happy with the way we played,” the Gloucester head coach said. “We still have a lot to learn but we competed the entire game against a solid team. It was a good step in the right direction.”
It was Westfield that opened up the scoring at 13:59 of the first period when Joe Taupier went short side on a shot from the left circle to give his team a 1-0 edge after one.
Gloucester, however, controlled the second period to take the lead.
Jeremy Abreu scored on a 5-on-3 just 20 seconds into the middle frame on a wrist shot over the goalie’s right shoulder, short side to make it 1-1.
Just over nine minutes later, sophomore Dan O’Leary found the back of the net from a tough angle on the right dot to send the Fishermen into the third with a 2-1 lead.
Westfield went on to dominate play in the third, outshooting Gloucester 11-3 and tying the score three minutes in when Nick Mee tucked a backhand inside the right post to make it 2-2.
For the rest of the third and the two overtime periods, Gloucester goalie Connor Vittands, who made 35 saves and stopped all five shots he faced in the shootout, and Westfield goalie Christian Czrnecki (29 saves) came up big to preserve the point for both teams.
“I thought both goalies were strong,” Geary said. “Connor came up big for us again. It was good to advance, now we get another good team in the finals.”