By Phil Stacey
---- — So far this postseason, the Swampscott High hockey team has:
Won the program’s first playoff game in 44 years;
Scored three goals in the final two minutes and one second to stun their arch rivals;
Scored two goals in the final three minutes, including the game-winner with 6.2 seconds to play, to capture their first North title; and
Vaulted into the state championship game after winning the semifinal on a dramatic overtime goal -- by a freshman, no less.
So what more can the Big Blue (19-5) do as they get set for the biggest game in their history, squaring off against Western Mass. champion Westfield (18-3-2) in tomorrow’s Division 3 state final at the TD Garden in Boston?
“The only thing left,” said head coach Gino Faia, “is to win the whole thing (tomorrow).”
Faia was at the Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg Thursday night and watched the Bombers defeat Wachusett, 6-4, in the other Division 3 state semifinal. He was impressed with their speed, puck moving ability and overall balance, not to mention their quick-strike capabilities offensively.
Senior Sean Spohr, Westfield’s first line left winger and leading scorer (32 goals, 18 assists), had a pair of goals against Wachusett while sophomore Chris Gentile (10-15-25), the second line left wing, added a goal and two assists. Junior right wing Michael Santinello (21-17-38) and senior center Adam Collier (12-15-27) both added a goal and an assist while sophomore third liner Connor Sullivan (10-11-21) also tallied.
“They can do a lot of good things with the puck,” Faia said of the Bombers, who are coached by long-time head man Moose Matthews. “Their goalie (senior Nick Liberto) looked good, too; you can tell he’s quick and athletic.
“I think we’ll match up well as long as we come out with the same intensity that we have in our previous tournament games. Obviously, we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game again; if we do I think we have a decent shot.”
A key for Swampscott in the playoffs has been its physical play; everyone, from defenseman Trevor Massey, Chris Carman, Patrick Burkett and Chris Dandreo to the team’s three forward lines has been battling along the walls, in front of the net and aggressively winning 50/50 battles all over the ice. Setting the tone in that regard has worked wonders for them.
Faia has been starting his team’s second line of Robert Serino (5-13-18), Griffin Hunt (7-1-8) and Ryan Cresta (7-9-16) against his foes’ top lines in the postseason, so look for them to match up against the Spohr-Collier-Anthony Cagliostro (8-19-27) trio. If circumstances work out that way, Swampscott’s top unit of Corey Carmody (23-11-34), Nunzio Morretti (15-17-32) and Noah Maercklein (13-16-29), who scored the OT game-winner against Medway in the state semis Wednesday night, to go up against Westfield’s second line of Gentile, center Neil Parrow (11-12-23) and Santinello.
Freshman Tristan Bradley, who has surrendered just seven goals in four playoff games, will be in goal for the Big Blue against the Bombers’ Liberto. The two netminders have similar numbers: Bradley is 14-2 overall with a 1.64 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and has pitched three shutouts; Liberto sits at 15-2-2 with a 1.59 GAA, .928 save percentage and one shutout.
An interesting note: Swampscott is 17-1 with Massey — the team’s four-year starter on defense and team captain — in the lineup this winter. He’s also among the team’s top scorers with 28 points, followed closely by fellow D-man Carman (23 points).
While Westfield has been to the title game five times before (most recently a 2011 loss to Marblehead), Swampscott is making its first-ever appearance — and everyone in Swampscott is caught up in it, said Faia.
“It’s been unbelievable, everywhere you go in town,” said Faia, a former Big Blue player who now owns his own business in town. “I’m hearing from alumni all the way back to the 1960s who are all excited about what the team is doing.
“It’s every player’s dream to play on the Garden ice, and every coach’s dream to stand behind the benches there, too. But we need to focus on Westfield. We can’t worry so much about what they’re doing or how they play; it’s more about playing our own game and concentrating on the things we’ve done well to get to this point.
“If we’re on our game, we’re confident we can play with anyone.”