LOWELL — There was a time, albeit briefly, when it looked like the Danvers High hockey team might be able to give defending Division 2 state champion Wilmington a run in last night’s North final at the Tsongas Center.
The optimism came when Falcons left winger A.J. Couto scored early in the second period — and it lasted exactly 50 seconds, which was how long it took the Wildcats to answer and completely take over the game.
The end result was a 7-2 triumph that gave Wilmington its second straight Division 2 North title and subsequently ended the season for Danvers (13-7-4), which made its deepest postseason run since 2005.
“That goal killed us,” said Danvers senior captain Joe Strangie, who assisted on Couto’s tally that made it 2-1 at 3:09 of the second period. But on the next shift, Wilmington’s Brendan McDonough scored the second of his three goals to make it 3-1.
“We had some momentum, but Wilmington is such a great team. The way they play, the suck the momentum right out of you.”
The Wildcats (20-3-2) will skate in the Division 2 final Sunday at TD Garden and are looking to become the first team to win back-to-back D-2 titles since Saugus did it in 2003-04.
Wilmington was fast, skilled and hard working. Their top line of McDonough (3 goals, assist), Cam Owens (4 assists) and Jake Rogers (goal) made the Falcons pay by creating odd-man rushes all night.
“They were firing on all cylinders the whole game,” said Danvers head coach Kevin Brown. “You can never account for speed, and speed was a big part of their game. They had a good feeling for where their linemates were supposed to be, and made some passes that were too much for us.”
Luke Foley put Wilmington on the board just 1:23 into the first and for a time, Danvers settled down after that. The Falcons found their shape in the defensive zone and looked to be acclimating to the Wildcats’ pace. But McDonough stole the puck at the blue line, shed a defender and scored to make it 2-0 late in the period.
“The skating was the difference, as it has been for us most nights. When we push the pace like we did, we’re at our best,” said Wilmington head coach Steve Scanlon, who has led his team to three of the last six Division 2 North crowns.
After Wilmington answered Couto’s goal to make it 3-1 in the second McDonough scored again, this time shorthanded, to complete his hat trick and make it 4-1 after two.
“I don’t know if we had the intensity we needed. We were probably too passive to start,” said Brown. “Those few minutes were probably the turning point of the game, to get it close and give up one up right away.”
Steven DeFuria and Dylan DiNatale scored in the third as Wilmington built a 6-1 lead. The Falcons simply couldn’t generate outlet passes through layers of Wildcat defenders, though Couto broke in on a pass from sophomore defenseman Steve Ganley and scored his 10th goal of the playoffs while shorthanded with 4:19 left in the game.
Once again, however, Wilmington answered on the very next shift when Rogers scored a power play tally 46 seconds later.
“It’s a very high octane line that moves the puck real well and gets big results. They can really stress a defense out,” said Scanlon. “Overall depth and speed, we just had too much.”
Danvers goalie Alex Taylor made 28 saves, with the majority of Wilmington’s goals coming on quick rushes that were essentially unstoppable. The Wildcats had the edge on shots on goal, 35-16, and owned the third period with a 12-3 advantage.
“You have to tip your cap to a team like that,” said Strangie. “It’s not often you see a team as talented as they are that are works as hard as they do. They beat us to every 50/50 puck.”
Danvers entered the postseason as the No. 8 seed and wound up with their first North final appearance in eight years. It was a remarkable run that featured an unforgettable upset of top-seeded Beverly, and first-minute goals in each of their first three playoff wins.
Last night, they ran into a better club.
“We had a feeling going in that (Wilmington was) a good team. They played a great hockey game tonight,” said Brown. “It’s been a nice run for us, and you have to credit our senior class for what we’ve done the last two weeks.”
agateHed:Wilmington 7, Danvers 2
agate_boldCentered:Division 2 North Final
at Tsongas Center, Lowell
agate_line3Periods:Danvers: 2 2 3 — 7
agate_line3Periods:Wilmington: 0 1 1 — 2
agate_lineQuarters:First period: W, Luke Foley (Cam Owens, Jim Davey), 1:23; W, Brendan McDonough (un), 11:27.
agate_lineQuarters:Second Period: D, A.J. Couto (Rob Buchanan, Joe Strangie), 3:09; W, McDonough (Owens), 3:59; W, McDonough (Owens), shg, 7:02.
agate_lineQuarters:Third Period: W, Steven DeFuria (Brian Pickett), 2:07; W, Dylan DiNatale (Foley, Cody McGowan), 6:21; D, Couto (Steve Ganley), shg, 10:41; W, Jake Rogers (Owens, McDonough), ppg, 11:27.
agate_lineQuarters:Saves: D, Alex Taylor 28; W, Drew Foley 14.
agate_lineQuarters:Records: D, 13-7-4; W, 20-3-2.