By Phil Stacey
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Judging solely by the way they’ve been playing recently, you’d never guess the Peabody High hockey team will hang up its skates for the final time in the 2012-13 campaign tomorrow night.
Playing their best hockey of the season, the Tanners are finally enjoying the fruits of their labor. They may not be going to the playoffs, but they’re certainly showing their resolve and will to keep competing.
Upsetting a Northeastern Conference North rival for the second time in three days, Peabody got the game-winning goal from senior defenseman Pat Ruotolo midway through the third yesterday to knock off Danvers, 3-1, in the first round of the 18th annual Newburyport Bank Classic.
It was the third straight victory for the Tanners (7-11-2 overall), who got a huge lift from Joe Powers in net. The senior netminder was brilliant in stopping 40 shots, including 18 in the middle period and another 13 in the final frame.
“I’m so proud of this team. They’ve worked so hard and come so far,” said Peabody head coach Mark Leonard. His team will meet Lincoln-Sudbury tomorrow night (7) in Newburyport in the Fournier Division championship game at the Bank Classic.
“They didn’t quit when we started the season (1-4-2); that shows a ton of character. We went from last place in the conference standings to finishing up in third place. That says it all.”
Coming off of a shocking 5-3 victory over previously unbeaten Beverly in Monday’s Carlin Cup, Peabody was once again resilient defensively, forechecked effectively and blocked shots. They never flinched after Danvers tied it up in the third period, either, as Ruotolo’s shot from the top of the right circle found the top left corner of the Falcons’ net just 86 seconds later.
“They had more will to win than we did,” Danvers (9-6-4) head coach Kevin Brown said of the Tanners.
“We’ve got to play better; you can’t be satisfied with 41 shots if 41 shots doesn’t get you what you want. It’s consistency, having all nine forwards, six defenseman and goalie on the same page at the same time. And it’s not just about consistency and fighting through adversity; we’ve got to be more tenacious and dictate the game, not let (the opponent) dictate it.”
Captain Matt McIsaac’s first period goal, created by some terrific forechecking by linemates Andrew Bisconti and Mike Vadala, was the only score through 30 minutes of play. Danvers peppered Powers with shots, but he was up to the task.
Finally, on the Falcons’ 34th shot, captain Rob Buchanan tied the score after flying down the left wing, cutting towards the Peabody net and sliding a smooth backhand into the cage.
Undeterred, the Tanners came right back and re-took the lead when Bisconti found Ruotolo at the right point. The co-captain flung a wrister through traffic and over goalie Alex Taylor’s (17 saves) right shoulder. Reed Foster’s empty net goal with 13 seconds left iced it for the Tanner City boys.
“All three captains stepped up,” said Leonard. “Matty got us going with that first goal, Pat had a great game and got the winner, and Joe was unbelievable in goal. And Biscuits (Bisconti), we’ve gotten a lot better because of him. He throws his body all over the place; he makes us tougher and grittier.”