Hopkinton Clips Norwood 2-1

Marlboro, MA – Thanks once again to the wonders of the interwebs and our good friends at LiveBarn, MassNZ was able to take in one of the marquee D2 matchups on the slate tonight as we get close to wrapping up the MIAA regular season. The 9th-ranked Norwood Mustangs traveled on the road to New England Sports Center tonight to take on the hometown team, the 20th-ranked Hopkinton Hillers as listed in the MIAA Power Rankings. This being a Valentine’s Day matchup, many already had dinner reservations locked up for 6 pm and the stands were a bit sparse, but let it be said that there is no love lost between these two teams on the ice.

In the opening period, both teams were looking to establish their game: Norwood looking to get pucks deep and gain possession below the dots and Hopkinton seeking to string passes together on the breakout. There was plenty of physicality early but not a great deal in terms of scoring chances. Both teams weren’t crisp with their handles which led to overskated pucks and a few turnovers. As the period wore along passes began connecting a bit more and we saw several steals turn into odd-man rushes and quick transition plays turn into scoring chances. Both goalies needed to make quality saves on breakaways and 2-on-1s and were able to keep the puck out of the back of the net. Hopkinton had a slight edge in terms of possession but the shot totals were roughly even according to the eye test. On we went to the second.

In the middle frame, it was largely more of the same: turnovers in the neutral zone led to scoring chances at either end and the goaltenders stood tall early. The play was roughly even with Hopkinton once again owning a slight edge in puck possession. With just over seven minutes to play in the period, Hopkinton would get on the board first on the power play. Sophomore center James Hayward won the puck to freshman Connor Merkle who tapped it over to point man Danny White who fired it on net which created a juicy rebound that Hayward was able to bang home: 1-0 Hillers. Hopkinton was feeling the moment and began to tilt the ice in their favor after the goal. They were engaging their legs on every shift and that put more pressure on the Mustangs defensively. Despite a couple of additional glorious looks off the rush for Hopkinton that would be the only score of the frame. Onto the third we went to decide this one.

In the final stanza, Norwood turned up the heat and won most of the battles early. They were strong on pucks and put pressure on Hopkinton with shots from all angles and strong work in front of the net. It was difficult for the Hillers to create as Norwood was leaning hard on the puck carrier and creating takeaways. That’s what ultimately led to the tying goal. With nine minutes to go, senior forward Andrew Gillis stole a puck in his defensive zone and had lots of room to roam up ice. It was a 2-on-1 rush and he slid the puck past the diving defender onto the stick of fellow senior forward Nick Berardinelli who pulled the puck to his backhand and slipped it into the open cage: we were tied at 1-1. Following the goal, Norwood turned up the forecheck pressure which again made life tough for Hopkinton. But somehow, those prime-time players find a way. In what looked like a routine zone exit up the wall, in skated Hayward from Hopkinton who picked the puck off the wall on his backhand and smoothly flipped over to his forehand. He walked right into the middle and rifled a shot far side that the goalie had no chance of stopping: 2-1 Hillers with 4:49 left in the game. From here, Hopkinton was able to muddy the waters on the Norwood breakout and despite the Mustangs pulling their goalie with just under a minute to go, and taking a timeout with 24.4 seconds remaining with the puck in their offensive end: this game would end in a 2-1 victory for the Hillers.

Three Stars:

  1. F James Hayward, Hopkinton
  2. F Nick Berardinelli, Norwood
  3. G Colton Spavento, Hopkinton