Following Saturday’s quarterfinal round thriller, boys hockey head coach Steve Scanlon had one request.
“We’d better make sure they keep the defibrillator at the arena,” said the Wildcat mentor with a relieved smile.
Scanlon’s charges made for a heart-stopping end of regulation but proved to be all heart in the extra period. Wilmington tipped Masconomet, 4-3, at Stoneham Arena to advance to the North Division 2 semifinal game.
All appeared to be well when freshman Brendan McDonough scored with 5:12 left in the second period to provide his team with a 1-0 edge. Then, sparkling sophomore Cam Owens added a second goal with 2:37 to play before the second intermission and the top-seeded Wildcats looked strong with a 2-0 lead.
Junior forward Dalton Rolli added a surprising goal from the blue line with 11:20 to go in the third, and Wilmington appeared ready to cruise into the semis.
“After the 3-0 lead we were all excited and thought we had it in the bag,” said Rolli. “Obviously they came back.”
That comeback started with 7:41 as Masco broke its scoreless drought, but even then the game appeared, as Rolli said, in the bag.
With 1:20 left, Masconomet struck once more after a time out, and suddenly the Wildcat faithful in the stands began to hear the decibel level rise from the student section at the opposite end of the bleachers.
The puck trickled into the corner with less than 10 seconds to play, and two Wilmington defenders grappled with a Masco skater, looking to run out the final ticks.
“I thought they should have just kneeled on it,” said Scanlon. “I mean, we were down to three seconds. Fall on the puck. Or just throw it, take the penalty, and it’d be over.”
Instead, with about three seconds left the Masconomet forward flicked the puck on net where a teammate tipped it home as the final horn rang. The entire Chieftain bench emptied onto the ice and celebrated as referees conferred and eventually decided the goal would stand with no time left in regulation.
A back-and-forth overtime period ensued, and Wilmington goalie Joseph Aucoin preserved his team’s season with 5:54 to play when Masconomet broke free on a breakaway. The senior goalie calmly used his stick to push the puck out of harm’s way, and the Wildcats moved up the ice.
With 5:05 remaining and a shootout looming, Rolli skated near the blue line and corralled a loose puck off the boards.
“I came down and it was a two-on-two, so I thought, ‘Why not shoot it?’” said Rolli.
The result was a golden goal as the puck settled into the back of the net. Rolli sprinted towards his student section and performed his best Bobby Orr impression, diving head first and sliding on the ice before hopping up to join a mass of waiting teammates.
“It was a great finish for us. I think it was more exciting us finishing with the overtime win than them scoring that game-tying goal,” said Rolli. “I mean, they celebrated like they had won the Stanley Cup. That was a little overboard, so I think karma was on their bad side I guess. It just shows you have to play until the end.”
Scanlon said he was unsure about the referees allowing the tying goal, but also admitted his team needed to end the game with a stronger performance.
“We shouldn’t have had ourselves in that position anyway,” said Scanlon. “We could have tanked it and felt sorry for ourselves, but we came out flying and it was a great overtime. It would have been easy to get rattled, so I like that about our team. We’ve come back a couple times and we’ve been in these crazy situations and we’ve found a way to win.”
After its latest victory, Wilmington squares off against Saugus on Tuesday at 6:10 p.m. in Chelmsford. If the Wildcats secure a victory in that tilt, they would play against either upstart Beverly or border rival Tewksbury in the bracket final on Friday.
“The name of the game is survive and move on. It doesn’t matter how you do it, they forget about that,” said Scanlon. “Any time you can rally from something like that, it’s good for you. The more experiences you have, the better you are come crunch time. It is a shot in the arm for us.”