By Matt Williams
SALEM — The Peabody High hockey team has been something akin to a runaway train this season. Once it gets going, you climb aboard — or you get out of the way.
Facing a two-goal hole with a period to play in a Division 2 North quarterfinal against Masconomet last night, the Tanners sped out of the locker room with a burst more powerful than a locomotive, scoring three goals in the first 5:47 of the final stanza to shock the Chieftains, 4-3, at the Rockett Arena.
"Who's better than us in the third period?" Tanner coach Mark Leonard wondered aloud outside a joyous locker room. His club has has won two tourney games in the same season for the second time in three years — and just the second time ever in school history.
Third-seeded Peabody (17-3-2) advances to Monday's North semifinal against No. 2 Winthrop (18-2-3) at 6 p.m. in Chelmsford. The Tanners are looking for their first ever trip to a North final and went 1-0-1 against the Vikings in Northeastern Conference play this season.
For sixth-seeded Masconomet, which wraps up 14-6-2, the result was nightmarishly similar to a regular season collapse against Peabody in which the Chieftains led 3-1 after two and lost, 5-3.
"Groundhog Day," said Masco coach Bill Blackwell. "I think we got away from what we do. Guys were trying to make the extra play, the extra move. We made things more complicated than they had to be."
The Tanner machine kicked into gear with a power play tally by Ryan Noftle 34 seconds in the frame. The junior defenseman made an outstanding play to keep the puck in the zone before putting in on net and into the twine.
"Once we made it 3-2, I really starting to believe we could get it done," said Leonard. "Noftle played about six shifts all last year and right now he's an all-star caliber defenseman. He sprinted to get to that puck and kept it on his backhand. That's all heart."
Peabody's rolling stone was gathering moss. Senior Peter Sucharewicz lifted his own rebound into the twine to tie it up 48 seconds later and the Tanners had all the momentum in the world just 1:22 after they were staring at a 3-1 hole — and likely elimination — between periods.
"Just like last game (a third period tournament win over Danvers on Tuesday night), we knew it could be the last 15 minutes we'll ever play. We came out flying," said Peabody's Matt Rodgers, who is now four points shy of the PHS all-time career scoring record.
Rodgers netted the game winner when he tapped home a Mike Broughton shot with 9:38 to play. It was one of the few breakdowns on the night for a Chieftain defense that was all over Peabody's top line.
"It's a pain in the neck chasing those Amigos around," Blackwell said referring to the trio of Rodgers, Derrik Pereira and Andrew Bucci. "Any turnover against those guys turns into a great scoring chance."
Masco's Charlie Gendron and Phil Russo were relentless in shadowing the man carrying the puck for Peabody, mostly centerman Pereira.
"What they did kind of exposed the top of the slot, so we wanted to get it behind the net to get their defense running and open up the points," said Leonard, whose strategy paid off when point shots led to two of Peabody's four goals.
Tanner netminder Derek Savage stood tall in the third to keep his team on top. Masco's most dangerous bid was a Vincent Zingarelli try in the final minute that saw the Chieftain sophomore streak across the crease and have his stick lifted by Peabody's Eric Muise to nullify the shot.
"I'm just staying focused. I had to shake off the second period," said Savage, who stopped 24 shots. "We had a lot of confidence going into the third because we did it to them last time."
Masco's Pat Crosby got behind Savage and tipped in the goal that made it 3-1 with nine seconds left in the second on a rush that came after Chieftain goalie Jake Warren (26 saves) robbed Bucci. That dramatic shift in momentum made Peabody's third period comeback that much more significant.
"We should've tied it and instead we're down two," said Leonard. "It was a little tense in the room. We told them it could be 15 minutes left in our careers. It was time to dig deep."
Masco's Ryan Dooley, who was outstanding in his final game (finishing with nine shots on goal), fed Sean Haines for a tip-in goal 24 seconds into the second that made it 2-1 in favor of the Chieftains.
In the first, Pereira opened the scoring when he wristed the puck by Warren at 3:55 of the first. Dooley beat Savage on the glove side to make it 1-1 with 6:51 to go in the frame.