SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 18, 2013

Phil Stacey column: Bigger win for Swampscott may be the lasting legacy this team leaves behind

By Phil Stacey
Sports editor

---- — BOSTON — So they didn’t reach their ultimate goal.

In any championship setting there has to be someone who loses, and yesterday that was the Swampscott hockey team. A more opportunistic Westfield team came from Western Massachusetts into the TD Garden and played solid three-zone hockey, getting stout defensive play and timely scoring in a 4-1, Division 3 title-clinching victory.

It was a bittersweet ending for the Big Blue boys, who went from being part of a program without a postseason victory in 44 years to the cusp of their school’s first ever state hockey crown. It certainly didn’t help that they were missing two of their top players yesterday, senior captain and defenseman Trevor Massey and sophomore right wing Ryan Cresta, who had been suspended for the game for violating school and MIAA policies.

But there were no excuses being made postgame. No woulda, coulda, shoulda’s.

Those who skated with the Swampscott crest on their jerseys seemed inherently cognizant that they were part of something special. Not ‘we just won the state title’ special, but special nonetheless.

”It was an honor to play here. We had a great season and a couple of miracle wins in the tournament,” said senior defenseman Chris Carman. “It’s bittersweet, but I’m glad we made it here.”

”It was a great ride,” added senior left wing Corey Carmody, the team’s leading scorer. “We made it as far as we could, and I’m pretty happy about that. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but we tried our best and got as far as we could.”

If these words ring as hollow or insincere to you jaded types, well, you couldn’t be more wrong than if you thought Dewey won the 1948 presidential election.

For a town of under 14,000 residents, Swampscott High has a wonderful athletic history. It has long been known as a football school, from its powerhouse days of the 1950s to the present day. At various times it’s also had remarkable success in baseball (including a state title in the early 1990s) and boys and girls basketball.

But it’s never been much of a hockey school.

Until now.

A 10-1 pounding of St. Joseph’s to end its long postseason drought got the good vibes flowing for Swampscott. It then shocked the local hockey world by defeating arch rival Marblehead, 4-1, in the Division 3 North semifinals, a team that had routed the Big Blue twice during the regular season.

The good times kept rolling when the Big Blue came back from a goal down to score twice in the final three minutes, including the game-winner from junior center Nunzio Morretti with 6.2 seconds to play, in a 3-2 victory over Bedford to clinch their first Division 3 North title. And in the state semifinals against Medway, Swampscott scored three times in the third period, then got an overtime goal from freshman Noah Maercklein to earn its third straight comeback win, a scintillating 4-3 triumph to reach the state final.

Carmody's ridiculous end-to-end rush that resulted in the go-ahead goal in the third period against Medway has made him a YouTube sensation; as of yesterday the clip had over 40,000 views. That’s something that’s never happened to anyone associated with the Big Blue hockey program.

”I remember my senior year, we were the first team to go to the state tournament in 14 years and we had a big following,” said Big Blue hockey alumnus — and current head coach — Gino Faia. “But it was nothing like this.”

Swampscott had its best season, record-wise (19-6), in school history. It won its first title (North sectional) and a record four playoff games, in addition to skating on the Garden ice.

”I did it once when I was a Pee Wee, but this was so different,” senior left wing Robert Serino, who had the Swampscott goal in the third period, said. “The environment was so much better. The town was all behind us.”

”Playing at the Garden, we had to give everything we had. The whole town was behind us,” added Morretti.

But it wasn’t to be ... and that’s what happens. Someone wins, someone loses.

But in the long run, the Swampscott hockey program is going to be the big winner. Lots of young fans wearing Big Blue jerseys and blue-and-white face paint were in the Garden stands yesterday, and the experience had to make an impression on them.

”Any guys that are considering going elsewhere, now I think they’ll take a hard look at it,” said Faia, referring to young hockey players in town. “All they need to do is ask these (current) guys about it. I’m 100 percent sure that this will be a big positive for the program moving forward.

”The guys definitely took this loss hard,” Faia added, “but we had a history making season. They’ve got a lot to be proud of, especially the seniors going out like this. They just finished their careers at the Boston Garden. What more could you ask for?”

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Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at pstacey@salemnews.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.