Matt Mincone, coach of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys’ hockey team, wasn’t disappointed by his team’s crushing 3-2 loss last Friday against Coyle Cassidy in the Division 2 South Sectional semifinals, a game decided by the largely unfamiliar format of a shoot-out.
Nor was the coach sad, or enraged by the shoot-out loss. Instead it left him, as it did many players and parents, feeling simply numb.
“Losing that way leaves a void . . . a big nothing,” the coach reflected. “Losing to a team like Coyle Cassidy is one thing. But after playing three periods in regulation and then an overtime period, only to have the game decided by a shoot-out — that’s something different. It left everyone asking, ‘What just happened?’ . . . ‘Is that really it?’
The coach equated Friday’s loss via a shoot-out with losing a World Series game by a home run derby or an NBA game by a slam-dunk contest.
The shoot-out largely has no connection with the high school game, as regular season games not decided after an overtime period simply end in a tie. Up until a few years ago, the coach noted, games in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament tied after regulation would go to a pair of 15-minute overtime periods.
And then if the games were still knotted after two overtime periods under the old system, the two teams would return the next day to play some more. “It wasn’t the easiest system in terms of scheduling, but it was fair,” coach Mincone said. “The teams played each other until one beat the other on the ice, not during a breakaway contest.”
Coach Mincone said his team rarely practiced for shoot-outs, and usually would do so simply for fun.
When the coach looked past his obvious distaste for the shoot-out, he said his team played well against Coyle-Cassidy, a team that has knocked the Vineyarders out of the tournament three times in the past four years. Three years ago, when many current players were freshmen, the Warriors beat the Vineyarders by a lopsided score of 10-0 in the second round of the tournament, a loss that still resonates with many players.
“These kids wanted to face Coyle Cassidy all season, and they got what they wanted. And they were up to the challenge . . . they played great,” he said.
The 7th-seeded Vineyarders (15-4-4) were equal to the No. 2-seeded Crusaders (16-4-2) from the start. The game remained scoreless through the first period and into the second, when the Vineyarders scored the first goal of the game. Defenseman Trey Rasmussen lunged to keep the puck in the Warriors’ zone, and the puck found itself in the back where both teams scraped and clawed for possession.
After a particularly nasty scrum, the Vineyarders’ Henry Smith emerged and fired a pass to teammate Chris Davies, who redirected it past Warriors’ goalie Tim Carey to give his team a 1-0 advantage. But it didn’t take the higher-seeded Warriors long to get the equalizer, as Evan Lavigne slipped one past Vineyard goalie Mike Capen to knot the score at 1-1 less than two minutes later.
The score would remain tied until early in the third period when the Warriors scored on a power play goal to take their first lead of the game. Coach Mincone said the goal did not dampen his team’s spirits but did create an additional level of stress. “I think it shifted the team’s focus to getting that goal and tying the game,” he said.
The Vineyarders caught a break in the closing minutes, when the Warriors committed two consecutive penalties to give them a 5-on-3 advantage. Coach Mincone called a time-out to set up a play, and his team responded when Nick Billingham scored with less than a minute in regulation. But the goal came with a price, the coach said.
“We were just drained. There was so much focus on getting that goal, we didn’t have much left after that,” he said.
The score remained tied at 2-2 all through overtime, and both teams were visibly exhausted by the prolonged battle. The Vineyarders did have a chance to win the game when Smith took a breakaway and raced all alone towards Carey, who managed to stop the shot.
After a scoreless eight-minute overtime, the stage was set for the dreaded shoot-out, where the Warriors elected to have the Vineyarders shoot first.
Tad Gold missed his shot in round one, and the Warriors took an early lead on a score by Jay Sylvia. Davies was good on the next round to tie the shootout at 1-1, but Ryan Alves gave the Warriors a 2-1 lead in round two. Both goalies prevented scores in rounds three and four, leaving the door open for the Vineyarders in the fifth and final round.
Nick Billingham, who was huge for the Vineyarders late in the season, made a move on Carey and scored on a wrister to tie the shoot-out at 2-2. But the Warriors Kevin Seeley was able to convert on the next shot, sealing the fate for the Vineyarders in a thrilling but ultimately frustrating finish.
Coach Mincone said his team, which will lose 11 seniors next year, should be proud of their season.
“It was a roller coaster all year. At the midway point, we had some tough losses and had some adversity in the locker room. But we got through that, and came together as a team when it counted. This wasn’t the way we wanted our season to end, in some breakaway contest, but they can be proud of how they played this game, and all season,” he said.