Wilmington is now on its final exit along "The Road to The Garden."
On Monday, the Wildcats overcame an early deficit and struck back for a dramatic win as senior captain Dalton Rolli netted the go ahead goal with 2:08 to play in the North Division 2 championship game against Winthrop in the Tsongas Center. Brendan McDonough added an empty net marker and the Wildcats celebrated a 4-2 win.
“Last year I thought I had the biggest goal of my career in the overtime against Masconomet,” said Rolli. “But the emotions going through this one once we got that 3-2 lead, it helped a lot.”
The came was back and forth early on before sloppy play in the defensive zone led to a turnover and a Winthrop goal with 4:22 to play in the opening period.
But sophomore Luke Foley fired home a rebound on a Frank Cerbone shot from the point to knot the score with 4:44 left in the second frame.
“We’ve talked about getting that first goal, but if you do get scored on, we didn’t want to fall to pieces and make one turn into two,” said Wilmington head coach Steve Scanlon. “We got down and made a mistake, but came back and kept fighting.”
There were plenty of momentum shifts in the final period. After slamming awkwardly into the boards and remaining down on the ice for several minutes, junior forward Jake Rogers returned and scored on a breakaway with 9:05 left to give his team a 2-1 edge.
That lead lasted a grand total of 28 seconds for the Wildcats as Winthrop struck back with the equalizer.
As the game appeared destined for overtime, Rolli took the puck on his stick after a steal and dish by Cam Owens in the neutral zone. The senior faked to his left, glided back to his right and backhanded the puck over a baffled Winthrop goalie into the empty net.
With 1:08 to go, McDonough sealed the win with his empty netter and then took a leap into the glass in from of the Wilmington student section before he was swallowed up in a swarm of his Wildcat teammates.
“At no point did we talk about it being easy,” said Scanlon. “It was going to be a grind no matter who we were playing. When you reach this level, all the teams are good. We came out of the Middlesex League battle tested, and I think we proved that in the tournament. The kids have been resilient. They’re hard working kids and they put the team before themselves.”
Rogers said his breakaway score was one that he’ll never forget, and also one that he’s done before. The junior said he utilized a similar move that he used earlier in the season, and it worked once more.
“I’ve wanted to score in front of our fans like that, because it just gives you a great adrenaline rush,” said Rogers. “We’ve had tough games against Woburn and Burlington, very close games. We knew how to handle ourselves.”
Thanks to the win, Wilmington’s magical run continues for one more game. The Wildcats play Franklin for the Division 2 state championship on Sunday in Boston at the TD Garden, game time yet to be decided.
“We’ve been on track through the whole postseason,” said Rolli. “Our third period play has been phenomenal, the best third period team in the state. Everything we’ve been doing has been crisp lately. We’re going to take everything we have going for us into The Garden.”
In more than , this is just the second appearance in the state final for Scanlon, so the Wildcat mentor knows how special of an accomplishment this is.
“You only come down this road one or two times in your career,” said Scanlon. “I know guys who have coached for 35 years and never played in (TD) Garden. So it’s quite a thrill for us.”