The juggernaut Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys’ hockey team easily defeated two powerful opponents this week to advance to the quarterfinals of the division 2 south state tournament, setting up an epic showdown tonight against old rival Coyle-Cassidy, the team that has knocked the Vineyarders out of the playoffs for two out of the last three years.
Tonight’s game against Coyle-Cassidy faces-off at 5:15 p.m. at the Gallo Arena in Bourne.
Coach Matt Mincone was confident Wednesday after his seventh-seeded Vineyarders easily handled number two-seeded Mansfield by a final score of 8-3. His team scraped back from an early deficit in the first quarter against the Hornets to score a dizzying six goals in the second quarter to take control of the contest.
Earlier in the week, the Vineyarders had an equally easy time with number 10 seed Whitman-Hanson, winning by a final of 5-1.
For Coach Mincone, the pair of wins was especially gratifying for a team that has been dynamic and overpowering during some stretches, but inconsistent and frustrating at others. The coach said following the game his team is playing some of its best hockey of the season.
“We feel like we’re a top four team. I think we proved that tonight,” he said.
The Vineyarders playoff run started on a high note when they jumped out to a two-goal lead against Whitman-Hanson on Monday. Despite a crowd that leaned heavily toward the Panthers, the Vineyarders came out of the gate with a charge, out-hustling and out-playing their opponents while controlling the puck easily.
The Vineyarders out-shot the Panthers 10-3 in the first period and 28-17 for the game. Nick Billingham, who is having a tournament for the ages, first got the Vineyarders on the scoreboard at the 8:12 mark of the first quarter with a brilliant rebound of a shot from teammate Darren Gazaille.
Billingham took the rebound and redirected it to the upper right corner of the net, just over the shoulder of Panther’s goalie Brandon Lynch. Gazaille would double the Vineyarders lead to 2-0 only minutes later when he backhanded a shot from teammate Tad Gold and buried it in the right corner of the net.
Gold would make it 3-0 in the second period when he stole the puck, raced down center ice on a breakaway and fired the puck over Lynch’s left shoulder. The Panthers made things interesting midway through the period when Kyle McCafferty scored on Vineyard goalie Mike Capen to make it 3-1, but that was as close as the Panthers would get.
Chris Davies fired a shot past Lynch in the closing minutes of the second period to make it 4-1, and Jock Cooperrider finished the scoring with an unassisted goal early in the third. The game got chippy in the final frame, as the Panthers tried to goad the Vineyarders into losing their cool, but they managed to keep their composure.
Following the game, Coach Mincone praised his team for taking control of the game early.
“We knew the team that came out strong early would have a big advantage. Our guys did a good job attacking the net in the first two periods and that gave us the confidence we needed,” he said.
The Vineyarders came out swinging again against Mansfield Wednesday, but the Hornets scored first to put the Vineyard behind 1-0. But the early deficit did not faze the Vineyarders, who got the equalizer about three minutes later when Gazaille stole the puck and scored to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Mansfield never seemed to recover, and the Vineyarders exploded in the second period to put the game away. Colin Hurd made it 2-1 just over a minute into the middle frame, and Gazaille scored his second goal of the game just 42 seconds later. Henry Smith joined the scoring party with a goal, followed by a score from Davies at the 9:02 mark.
Then it was time for Billingham to go to work, who finished the game with a hat trick, even though he didn’t get his first goal until there was three minutes left in the second period. He would add his second goal by the end of the period, and his third goal at the start of the next.
In just over a period of play, the Vineyarders scored seven unanswered goals to take a 7-1 lead. The Hornets added two garbage-time goals in the last few minutes, but the final score was still lopsided in the Vineyard’s favor. Capen was strong between the pipes, stopping 19 of 23 shots.
With the win, the Vineyarders improved their record to 14-4-4 for the season.
Next up for the Vineyard is old foe Coyle-Cassidy, the team that knocked them out of the state tournament three years ago by a final of 10-0 and last year by a more respectable score of 2-1. The game will be taped by MVTV and rebroadcast sometime this weekend or early next week.