NEWBURYPORT — If the coaches can use this as a teaching tool moving forward, then there will be a silver lining from Saturday night’s game for the Masconomet Regional hockey team.
Otherwise, it’s better to just forget this one and move forward.
The Chieftains had been red hot, having gone 7-1-1 in their previous nine games and only allowing a grand total of nine goals in those contests. But host Triton, a gritty club playing for their playoff lives, didn’t care about any of that and tallied once in each period to knock off Masconomet, 3-1, at Graf Rink.
“We told our guys in practice and we told them before the game, ‘Every team is going to be coming after you from this point on’,” said Masconomet (10-4-2) head coach Andrew Jackson. “I really thought we were past this point.”
The loss also ended Masconomet’s reign atop the CAL standings at a mere 24 hours. They had taken over the top spot when North Reading lost to Newburyport Friday night, but slipped back into second place Saturday night after own loss, making them 8-2-2 in leageu play, combined with North Reading (9-2-1 CAL) toppling Pentucket.
It was a strange dichotomy Saturday night for the Chieftains. On one hand, they’re a senior-laden team that’s big, fast and deep, rolling 10 forwards and six defenseman against Triton. When they’re rolling it’s a sight to see, such as the third period when they completely controlled play.
But the flip side is that virtually none of those 15 Masconomet seniors have much big-game experience, having not qualified for the state tournament in three years prior to doing so last week. And a big part of that is learning how to come back from early deficits, adjust to different looks (Triton threw two different forechecks at them) and fight through adversity.
“We just couldn’t handle the puck much and didn’t use our points at all those first two periods,” said Jackson, whose team trailed by two after 30 minutes. “We finally started to pick it up when we had to play catch up, but (overall) mistakes hurt us. You can’t give up those opportunities and expect to win.”
Masconomet came out for the final stanza with a jump in their skates they hadn’t shown all night, buzzing the Vikings’ cage and peppering goalie Devon Shuman (23 saves) with shots. Jake Esposito finally broke through with 10:25 remaining, going top shelf from the far circle. Mike Castro and captain Joe Griffin earned the assists.
But an attempted clear in the Masconomet zone a little less than six minutes later went awry, allowing the Vikings’ Kyle Hillick to pounce on it and snap a shot past Mitch Nekoroski (15 saves) to restore his team’s two-goal lead at 3-1.
The Chieftains pulled Nekoroski with 1:25 to go, but to no avail.
“It’s a simple game plan when you face a bigger, stronger team: you have to get pucks to the net,” said Triton head coach Drew Wile, whose team (5-9-2) moved up to Division 1 this season and must earn nine of a possible 10 points over its final five games to earn a postseason invitation.
“We tried to match lines with them as best we could. We were able to get up early, which helped. There were a couple of other (CAL) upsets (Saturday); first Saugus, then Lynnfield, so I thought, ‘Why not us, too?’”
Josh Brown blocked a shot in his own end, started a 2-on-1 the other way and scored 9:55 in to give Triton a 1-0 lead. Shea Capodulo’s wrist shot from the left point stayed along the ice and, with Jarrod Guertin screening Nekoroski, found its way into the net for a 2-0 Vikings’ lead after two.
“I liked the fight we showed in the third period, carrying the play. We can build off of that,” said Jackson, whose Chieftains host Pentucket in their final home game Wednesday (7:50 p.m.). “Hopefully we learn from this.”