By Matt Williams
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Danvers High hockey team had to win one championship to give themselves a shot at another.
Needing a point to qualify for the Division 2 North tournament, the Falcons turned up the heat in the second period to beat Saugus, 2-0, in the final game of the Newburyport Bank Ice Hockey Classic at Graf Rink last night.
Danvers (10-10-1 overall, 10-9-1 for tournament seeding purposes) hoisted the Fournier Division title while also earning a spot in the state playoffs for the fifth straight season. The Falcons went 5-2-1 in their last eight games in order to qualify.
“The guys had to reach down. Some of the stretches we went through, maybe we hit rock bottom at some point, but the guys kept climbing out,” said Danvers head coach Kevin Brown. “That’s a credit to our senior leadership. They led and it worked it’s way through the rest of the room.”
Against a physical Saugus team that wrapped up its first season in the Cape Ann League 6-13-1, Danvers played the body and limited the Sachems’ shots on goal. The Falcons took a few penalties that took them out of rhythm in the first, but found their stride in the second.
Danvers assaulted Saugus goalie David Aiken with 12 shots in the period, and defenseman Stephen Ganley’s blast found its way through traffic and into the net with 8:56 to go in the middle frame. Captain Kevin Hodgkins provided a good screen on Ganley’s goal, which was assisted by Jay Calcagno.
“It seemed like we got more pucks to the net,” Brown said of the difference between the first and the second. “High school sports are about momentum, and we gained momentum as each line picked up off the previous line. We got a nice flow going.”
Saugus had a golden opportunity to tie the game when Erik D’Orlando was whistled for a 4:00 major penalty early in the third. The Falcons’ penalty killers limited the Sachems to three shots on goal during that stretch, however, and Alex Taylor (17 saves in all) held the post on one strong bid to keep Saugus off the board.
“Our kill’s been pretty dominant throughout the season,” said Brown. “Guys know where they need to be and they really take pride in that penalty kill.”
The top defensive pairing of Ganley and Ryan Cassidy were all over the ice for Danvers. Once D’Orlando, a defenseman, left the game after his major, there was seldom a shift where one of Danvers top two D weren’t on the ice. Their steady play kept most of the action out of the Danvers end and ultimately allowed the Falcons to win.
“Everytime I looked up they were out there,” said Brown. “They played smart and conserved energy where they could, and when pucks were on sticks they made the plays.”
Fournier Division MVP Sean Lundergan put the game away for Danvers when he scored with 2:25 to go. Trevor Daly and Robert Tibbets fed him from along the wall and Lundergan buried the chance to make it 2-0.
“That second goal was huge,” Brown said. “Lundergan has been coming off an injury and he’s been playing really well since he’s been back. He’s had a real impact on our lineup and he deserved that MVP.”
In all, Danvers killed four Saugus power play chances. The teams also exchanged coincidental majors in the second when a Danvers played was whistled for boarding but a Sachem skater received a 4:00 facemasking penalty. It was the type of tight-checking, physical game that serves as good preparation for the state tournament.
“Credit Saugus. When they see the blue-and-white of Danvers, they respond,” Brown said of his team’s old NEC rivals. “Saugus threw the kitchen sink at us and our guys handled it. It’s a good thing to see a nice physical game like this.”
MVP Lundergan was joined on the Fournier Division All-Tournament team by teammates Taylor and Ganley, as well as Saugus’ Aikens and Steve Kay.