By Phil Stacey and Matt Williams
---- — BOSTON — Prior to this March, the Swampscott High hockey program had a grand total of six playoff wins — ever.
The Big Blue nearly doubled that within a 15-day span.
In one of the great stories of the 2012-13 North Shore school sports season, the Big Blue ripped off four straight posteason victories and reached the Division 3 state championship game for the first time in their history. And while they fell short in the final, falling to Westfield, 4-1, Sunday at the TD Garden in Boston, the remarkable run they went on won’t be forgotten by those who watched it unfold.
Following the team’s 10-1 tournament-opening win over St. Joseph’s — Swamspcott’s first playoff win since 1969 — it was put to the test in each of its next three contests. A 4-1 win over favored Marblehead in the Division 3 North semifinals was highlighted by a natural hat trick off the stick of Corey Carmody ... all coming with under 2:01 to play. The first of those goals snapped a 1-1 tie, and he added a pair of empty netters for pull off the stunning upset.
In the Division 3 North final, the Big Blue fell behind by a goal (2-1) to a gritty Bedford squad with under two-and-a-half minutes to play when defenseman Chris Carman tied the score. Then, with just 6.2 seconds left in regulation, junior center Nunzio Morretti gave his team its first-ever hockey title when his goal enabled Swampscott to lift the Division 3 North title.
It was Comeback No. 3 in three games for coach Gino Faia’s team in the state semifinals (i.e., Eastern Mass final) against a favored Medway club. Trailing entering the third period, Swampscott scored three goals before winning the contest with an overtime strike by freshman Noah Maercklein.
The end result was not what Swamspcott had hoped ... but the journey they took to get there will never, ever be forgotten.
Playing at TD Garden was a dream come true for many of the Swampscott players. Moments like dressing in the locker rooms used for the Beanpot and Hockey East tournaments, a few feet down the hall from the Bruins locker room, using the same tunnel as those Stanley Cup winning Bruins, skating on the spoked-B at center ice and being under the Garden’s famous championship banners made it a special experience.
“I played here once as a Pee Wee, but this was way better,” said senior Robert Serino. “With all the fans here, all the people from the town, it made it incredible. It was unreal being on that ice.”
The Big Blue played freely and weren’t affected by the big building despite the loss. Faia actually thought the crowd was a bigger factor, in terms of the team’s focus on the ice, in a packed, loud Chelmsford Forum in the semis against Medway.
“The guys knew they had to stay focused,” said Faia. “We told them to get the Garden awe out of their systems during the warmup and, for the most part, I thought they handled themselves really well.”
Swampscott got a police escort from the school down the Lynnway on their way to Boston Sunday morning, and also had a sendoff from their fans that morning. The support from both students and the folks in town meant the world to the Big Blue.
“People would see the blonde hair,” said Serino, referencing the team’s bleached show of unity that even Faia joined in, “and wish me good luck at the Garden, saying they’d be there. People I’ve never even seen before. It was awesome.”
“It hasn’t even really hit me that I played on the Garden ice yet,” Morretti said.
Carmody finished as the team’s leading scorer in the postseason with seven goals and 10 points. Morretti was second with three goals and nine points, while Maercklein was close behind with four goals and eight points.
In all, eight different players had at least one goal in the playoffs for Swampscott and 14 different players had at least one point. The Big Blue had 22 goals and 29 assists in five playoff games.
Swampscott finished one goal shy of 100 for the season while allowing just 47 in 25 games.
Carmody’s spin-o-rama goal in the state semifinal against Medway was certainly one of the highlights of the postseason for the Big Blue. A video of the goal posted on YouTube has already been viewed more than 48,000 times.
Swampscott loses eight important seniors, especially on defense where Chris Carman, Trevor Massey, Patrick Burkett and Chris Dandreo will be lost to graduation.
Up front, however, the Big Blue have three junior leaders coming back: Morretti, Joey Silva and Griffin Hunt. “Those three guys bring it all the time,” said Faia.
Morretti, who will be the team’s leading returning scorer with 32 points this past season, is excited about trying to extend the winning tradition next season, “As juniors, we need to take what we learned and bring it to next year. We need to work our hardest and bring everyone closer together to get that camaraderie again.”
The Big Blue only lost three seniors from the 2011-12 team that ended a three-year state tournament drought. Though there will be more hole to fill this time around, the team learned how to carry momentum by building on that season beginning this past December.
“From being around those guys, we all learned what it took. We brought that this year and built on it and got to the Garden,” said Morretti.
Its impossible to discount the contributions of Swamspcott’s freshman class, who could conceivably be even better next year. Noah Maercklein stepped right into a first-line role and netted 13 goals, four of them in the postseason.
Goaltender Tristan Bradley played like a seasoned veteran, never showing any signs of worrying about pressure. His calm presence in net helped him win more postseason games than any goalie in program history.
Ninth grader Devon Wall was also a top-nine contributing forward who skated right wing on the second line in Sunday’s state final, and classmates Peter Doyle, Dante Ceccarelli and Tyler Donovan learned valuable lessons from being around the team. Look for some major contributions from the sophomores-to-be next winter.