By Phil Stacey
---- — NORTH BILLERICA — The star players are shining. The role players are rolling.
And the wins? They just keep on comin’.
Continuing their improbable run through the Division 2 North state tournament, the Falcons jumped out to a big lead early and were in complete command throughout, toppling Concord-Carlisle, 5-3, in a North semifinal last night at the Chelmsford Forum.
“Everything is working for us right now,” said senior right wing Rob Buchanan, who got the scoring started last night with a wrister from the slot just 39 seconds in. “All the lines are working really well and everyone is on the same page.”
Now, for the first time since 2005, the Falcons (13-6-4) find themselves in the Division 2 North final, one win away from playing for the state championship at TD Garden in Boston. Danvers, the No. 8 seed, will meet third-seeded Wilmington (19-3-2) for the North championship next Monday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell (time TBA). Wilmington, which defeated Lincoln-Sudbury in last night’s other semifinal (6-0), is the defending Division 2 state champion.
“We said all season that we wanted to be playing our best hockey at the end of the year — and we are,” sophomore goalie Alex Taylor (24 saves) said.
With another dominant effort out of its first line of left wing A.J. Couto (2 goals, assist), captain Joe Strangie at center (1 goal, 2 assists) and Buchanan (goal, assist) on the right side, Danvers dictated the flow of this game for the better part of two periods, then locked it down after Concord-Carlisle scored an early third period goal to cut their deficit to two.
Finding the scoring touch that at times during the season ebbed and flowed, the Falcons have connected for 18 goals in three postseason games, a dozen of those coming from Couto (8), Buchanan (3) and Strangie. They have yet to trail in 135 minutes of playoff hockey, either.
Just as importantly, the Falcons seem to have not only discovered, but relished their individual roles. While the first line has been busy lighting up the scoreboard, other forwards are buzzing in all three zones, winning 50/50 pucks and forechecking like madmen. The quartet on defense (Mike Disciullo, Kevin Anderson, Shea Doyle and Stephen Ganley) are chipping pucks out of the zone and playing smart, physical hockey, and Taylor has made all the saves he’s needed to make.
“The last few weeks, we’ve really been on the guys to simply do your job. Find what you’re best at and do it,” said Strangie. “If you’re a scorer, go score. If you’re a grinder, then grind the best you can. Everyone is buying in.”
“It’s really the first time all season,” added head coach Kevin Brown, “that they’ve expanded their energy to focus. It’s a feeling you have when the practices are crisp, jobs are done right, little things like pucks are picked up and water bottles are filled ... everyone is just focused on what we need to do to ultimately win.”
Three goals in the first 7 minutes of 15 seconds of action last night certainly benefitted the Falcons’ cause last night.
Buchanan got the ball rolling with his first shift tally, and Strangie made it 2-0 on the power play at 4:07, screening C-C goaltender Ranger Beguelin and having teammate Adam Merry’s shot go off of him and into the net. Another power play strike, this one by Couto, swelled the lead to three; he adroitly tipped Disciullo’s rocket from the right point out of mid-air and past Beguelin at the far post.
Couto leads the team in scoring with 26 goals and 10 assists for 36 points. Eleven of those points have come in the playoffs.
The Patriots (12-9-2) got a power play goal in the final minute of the first period and connected again at 3:42 of the second, making it a 3-2 game. But Couto buried a 2-on-1 chance with Strangie with another wrist shot from the high slot, and then Merry scored what Brown called “the biggest goal of the game”, diving to swat home a rebound under Beguelin with 8.5 seconds to go in the second period, giving Danvers a commanding 5-2 lead.
“Guys have dedicated themselves to fixing mistakes and doing what it takes to keep going,” said Strangie, who now has 33 points on the season and 113 for his career. “We’re scoring, being physical and shutting it down on defense. We’re playing real Danvers Falcons hockey.”
agateHed:Danvers 5, Concord-Carlisle 3
agate_boldCentered:Division 2 North semifinals
at Chelmsford Forum, North Billerica
agate_lineQuarters:Concord-Carlisle@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: 1 1 1 — 3
agate_lineQuarters:Danvers@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: 3 2 0 — 5
agate_lineQuarters:First period@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: D, Rob Buchanan (A.J. Couto, Joe Strangie), :39; D, Strangie (Adam Merry), ppg, 4:07; D, Couto (Buchanan, Mike Disciullo), ppg, 7:15; CC, Nick McCormack (Brendan Harrington, Carter Miller), ppg, 14:02.
agate_lineQuarters:Second Period@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: CC, Brendan Finigan (Matt Johnson, Patrick McCauley), 3:42; D, Couto (Strangie, Shea Doyle), 8:11; D, Merry (Kevin Anderson, Jay Calcagno), 14:51.
agate_lineQuarters:Third Period@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: CC, Johnson (Finigan), 1:46.
agate_lineQuarters:Saves@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: CC, Ranger Beguelin 27; D, Alex Taylor 24.
agate_lineQuarters:Records@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: D, 13-6-4; CC, 12-9-2.