PEABODY — The Lynnfield High boys hockey team couldn’t have picked a better time to play some of its best hockey of the season. Saturday at McVann-O’Keefe Rink, the Pioneers dispatched a strong Westwood team 4-1 on Senior Night to pick up their 11th win, the most ever in the 6-year tenure of head coach Jon Gardner.
Senior forward George DeRoche, who netted a hat trick, improved his team-leading goals scored number to 16. He now has 33 points with three games remaining in the season.
“Our defense was great tonight, especially Joey Mack and Ronnie Fucillo,” said Gardner. “As he alway is, Joey was just rock solid and Ronnie was just a general back there with the puck, he was making smart outlet passes and did a really nice job.
George is definitely one of the top 10 scorers in the state in D2.
“Westwood had given up only two goals in their last five games, and they are a top quality program, so this is a good win for us.”
With under five minutes to go in the game, Lynnfield clung to a slim 2-1 lead, but a power play goal by DeRoche gave the Pioneers some breathing room. DeRoche sealed the deal with an empty netter with just 10 seconds left.
“Today’s game kind of blows the stats, but this was basically another one-goal game and then we make it 3-1 with the goal on the power play,” said Gardner. “It was obviously a much closer game than the scoreboard says.”
Westwood carried the play in the early going, but it was the Pioneers who lit the lamp first.
Junior Jaret Simpson flicked the puck toward the net into the zone from just outside the blue line toward the net, where it was defected off a Westwood defenseman into the net just inside the far post. The time of the goal was 4:19. Senior captain Cooper Marengi and sophomore John Simonetti picked up assists. The shot was the first of the game for the Pioneers.
“We carried the play initially for a little while, but we were a little unlucky on that first goal.” said Westwood assistant Tom McCusker. “The kid from the blue line just threw it at the net, which is what you are are supposed to do in high school hockey. I don’t think our goalie (Justin Anderson) ever saw it.”
Eight minutes later, Westwood threw another break Lynnfield’s way when they got caught in a line change. DeRoche seized the moment and turned on the jets at the red line, then fired off a wrist-shot bullet just inside the blue line that beat Anderson, top shelf, with just under three minutes left in the period.
Westwood cut the lead to 2-1 2:23 into the second period on a goal by center Shane Cronin. He blasted a shot from the right point that beat Lynnfield junior goaltender Aidan Kelly, top shelf right.
The rest of the second period was fast paced, with back and forth action both ways and both teams having plenty of scoring chances, but defense and goaltending ruled.
The third period was more of the same, until the 9:45 mark when Westwood’s Matt Hetnik was sent to the penalty box for high sticking.
After a scuffle in the corner, senior captain Cooper Marengi won the ensuing draw. The puck ended up in heavy traffic in front of the net. With several Lynnfield players scrambling to poke the puck free, DeRoche managed to get his stick on it and tucked it into the net to make it a 2-goal game at 3-1.
“Our PP stepped up when we needed it,” said Gardner. “That team doesn’t give up many goals and we knew the only way we were going to get offense going was to get in his (Anderson’s) grill.”
After a Westwood timeout with 2:27 to go, the Wolverines pulled Anderson for an extra skater. The Pioneers dodged a big bullet when a turnover in the defensive zone put the puck on Cronin’s stick, alone in the slot, but his shot was wide. A couple of seconds later, Mark Horsfall blasted a shot into traffic, but Kelly managed to cover it up.
DeRoche closed out the scoring with his third goal of the game. He flipped a backhander from the red line along the boards that found the mark, just inside the left post to make it 4-1.
“I didn’t really see the empty netterm but George wasn’t going for it, he was just trying to get it out. We had talked about that during the timeout,” said Gardner. “On the second period we generated a ton of chances and carried the play and also in the third, and I think the lesson is good things happen when you put the puck on the net, even with bad angles, you just never know. They had that one shot at the end, which I’m not too happy about, that kid was wide open, and there are no excuse for that, but Aidan got big and got out of the net and made him miss it.”
Gardner singled out the penalty kill unit for limiting the Wolverine’s chances.
“I don’t think they had too many grade A shots, no two on one chances or breakaways,” he said. “Brando (Robbie Brandano) and Murph (Tyler Murphy) have been great on the penalty kill and obviously Aidan is our biggest penalty killer. He had a great bounce back game after giving up five in the North Reading game.”