By Phil Stacey
---- — SALEM — In a split second Stephen Ganley had a decision to make: go for the puck or go after the puckcarrier.
He chose the latter — and his decision may have saved the Danvers High hockey team’s season.
Aggressively forechecking on the penalty kill with two minutes to go, Ganley crushed a Peabody player trying to come out of his own zone with a jarring hit to the chest, knocking the puck free. Teammate Jon Milne pounced on the loose disc and skated in alone before scoring the game-winning shorthanded goal with 1:53 remaining, giving the Falcons a wild 4-3 comeback victory.
Peabody had scored with exactly 10 minutes to play to take a 2-goal lead before Danvers rallied and produced the game’s final three scores, thus taking their third straight Mike Clifford Memorial Game, played in memory of the former assistant coach for both squads.
“We wanted to pinch their guy along the wall and Stephen made a real good play to steer him away from open ice,” said Milne, a senior defenseman. “I was the other guy there and was able to get the puck. From there, it’s just a matter of instincts; pick your head up, put the puck on net and hope it goes in.”
The win improved the Falcons’ record to 3-4.
“Jon was able to angle their guy towards the boards and I decided it was a good move to step up and hit him in the chest,” said the burly Ganley. “The puck squirted out in the slot and Jonny pounced on it and scored. Awesome play.”
For Peabody (2-5), it was the second straight outing in which it lost both a third period lead and the game. It also denied head coach Mark Leonard of his 200th career win behind the Tanners’ bench.
“All we had to do was get the puck to the other side … we slide the puck the other way and we would’ve had an odd man rush 3-on-2 the other way,” said Leonard of Danvers’ game-winning goal.
“Our goalie played well, we had some energy from our forwards … we just can’t finish. It’s frustrating because we’ve played well enough to win the last two games,” he continued. “The only way for us to get out of this is to keep battling.”
Peabody defenseman Guiseppe Zarro snapped a 1-1 tie nine minutes into the second period but picking up a turnover in the Danvers end and beating goalie Alex Taylor. The visiting Tanners made it 3-1 with 10 minutes to play when senior Andrew Bisconti buried a feed from fellow captain Derek Demild.
For a team that’s had trouble scoring this season, the situation appeared less than ideal for Danvers. “We knew that third period was pretty much our season,” admitted captain Matt Flynn.
But strangely, they seemed to gain new life at that point, taking changes offensively and pressuring the Tanners while keeping them hemmed in their own zone. It paid off quickly when freshman Robert Tibbetts scored his second goal of the season, converting a Flynn pass to slice the deficit in half with eight-and-a-half minutes remaining.
“This one means a lot to me. I knew Cliffy real well and he meant so much to Danvers hockey,” said Flynn.
The Falcons tied it at 3-3 when sophomore third line winger James Curley snuck behind the Peabody defense and backhanded his own rebound past Peabody freshman netminder Aaron McConnell. Making his first varsity start, McConnell was sharp in stopping 23 shots.
When Taylor was called for a rare goalie tripping penalty with 2:55 remaining, it appeared as though the Tanners had the upper hand in terms of breaking the stalemate. But thanks to Ganley and Milne, it was Danvers that produced the decisive tally.
“It’s a momentum game. You see it in all high school sports; momentum is huge, and it certainly was (Saturday),” said Danvers head coach Kevin Flynn. “It wasn’t this system or that system that worked best for us, it was more emotional play.
“Credit our guys for bouncing back; this was an important win for our season.”