By Phil Stacey
---- — SALEM — Satisfaction after 45 minutes of hard fought hockey comes in many forms.
For the Danvers Falcons, satisfaction came in securing another two points after holding off visiting Peabody, 3-1, in a Northeastern Conference North contest at the Rockett Arena. Just as importantly, they won the second annual Mike Clifford Memorial Game — played in memory of the long time assistant hockey coach at both schools — and got to keep the trophy for another year.
For the Tanners, satisfaction came from refusing to pack it in after falling behind by three goals less than 19 minutes in and actually outplaying the hosts for the second half of the game, particularly in the third period.
“I was going out of my mind with the way we played in the first period and let them know about it (during intermission),” admitted Peabody coach Mark Leonard, whose team trailed by a pair of goals after 15 minutes. “But I’m happy that they picked it up in the second period and really did so in the third. We had two great chances in the final three minutes where if either of those goes in ... you don’t know what could have happened.”
It was a different story in the other locker room, however; one of those rare occasions where a win didn’t feel as such. The Falcons (5-1-1) seemed to know, from head coach Kevin Brown right down to the final player off the bench, that the effort turned in was far from their best and that changes need to be made immediately.
Whether it was a six-day layoff since their last game or perhaps looking ahead to Saturday night’s colossal matchup with unbeaten Beverly, Danvers played listless at times after jumping out to a quick lead and led Peabody (1-3-1) dictate the pace.
“The players need to be accountable for their actions as well as the coaches,” said Brown. “In order to be a better team, everyone has to be thinking team first.
“The bottom line is we need to be able to finish off games. Yes, we took two points away from this, but we have to understand that we can always be better and strive to be more well rounded.”
Still, Danvers was satisfied to honor Clifford with another win over their rivals.
“But it’s great to be able to win the Clifford Trophy again,” added Brown. “Mike’s daughter Kelly and the committee do an awful lot of work between this, the golf tournament in his name and the scholarship that’s given to a player from both teams. It’s an honor to be able to keep the trphy another year.”
Sophomore Alex Taylor got the win in net for Danvers, stopping 16 shots for his fourth victory of the season. His counterpart, Peabody captain Joe Powers, was busy again in the Tanner nets, stopping 26 shots — including more than half of those (16) coming in the second period.
Danvers junior Matt Flynn got the scoring started when he took a pretty feed out front and beat Powers with a high wrist shot at 6:47 of the opening period. Defenseman Alec Littlefield earned his first varsity point on the play for Danvers.
A little less than seven minutes later, the Falcons doubled their lead as sophomore defenseman Stephen Ganley uncorked a wrist shot from the left point that beat Powers cleanly over his stick shoulder for his first varsity goal.
When captain Joe Strangie backhanded in a loose puck out front three minutes into the second period, Danvers appeared to be in control — and eased off the gas a bit. Peabody refused to pack it in and got on the scoreboard with four minutes remaining until second intermission when junior Derek Demild’s shot from the left wing boards snuck inside the near post to cut the deficit to 3-1. Defenseman Chris Minter assisted on the goal.
“I give Peabody a lot of credit,” said Brown. “They never stopped fighting, saw a moment of opportunity and nearly took (the game) from us.”
Peabody, which got terrific outings from sophomore defenseman Cam Smullen (“easily our best player tonight,” said Leonard) and junior Mike Vadala, had its chances late in the game — captain Matt McIsaac just missed a one-timer alone in the slot with three minutes to play — but couldn’t get any closer. The Tanners will host winless Saugus Saturday (2 p.m.).
Brown realizes his team will need more intensity and mental toughness before they skate against the Panthers back at the Rockett Arena on Saturday.
“We’re certainly capable of it,” Brown said, alluding to the two above-mentioned intangibles. “We’ve played some good hockey this year and will be looking to the positives as we get ready for Saturday. I have complete faith in the players and the coaches that we’ll be able to do that.”