Swampscott's Dom Codispoti scored the game-winning goal in the quarterfinal victory over Lowell. (Item File Photo)

Big Blue hope to continue state tournament run

SWAMPSCOTT -- For the past three seasons, the Swampscott hockey team has fallen on the wrong side of the "win or go home" reality that comes with the state tournament in each of their openers.

Last season Swampscott held high hopes as the No. 1 seed in the Division 3 North, earning a first round bye, before the Big Blue's tournament dreams were dashed by No. 9 Lowell in the quarterfinals.

Hungry to end the trend, this year's team came into the state tournament eager to make the most of its opportunities. After a 4-2 win over No. 9 Revere in the Division 3 North first round, the No. 8 Big Blue's core of 4-year senior players saw themselves earn their first playoff victory.

"It was great, I was happy for them," Swampscott coach Gino Faia said. "They're the first class to make it to the tournament all four years. We had tough losses in the previous three years. This year, our goal was to win at least one game. We got that win over Revere under our belts and that gave the kids a lot of confidence."

That confidence carried over to the quarterfinals, where Swampscott gained revenge over No. 1 Lowell with a 3-2 victory. The Big Blue fell behind 2-0 in the first period but regained their composure in time to grab the come-from-behind win.

Conor Donovan and Stevie Santanello each scored a goal to set the stage for Dom Codispoti's game-winner. Goalie Dan Johnson made 26 saves.

"That was huge," Faia said. "Last year we were in the position they were, No. 1 seed. This year, we had nothing to lose and everything to gain. We started down 2-0 in the first period and the guys showed a lot of character. They fought hard all the way until the end. It was rewarding to get that win against Lowell."

Now, a familiar Northeastern Conference foe stands between the Big Blue and a spot in the Division 3 North final. Swampscott will battle No. 5 Lynn in Thursday night's (8:15) sectional semifinal at Chelmsford Forum.

Swampscott and Lynn met twice during the regular season, both ending in ties. The Big Blue earned a shootout win over the Jets in Lynn's Christmas Tournament, but for seeding purposes the game went into the record books as a 3-3 tie. The two teams skated to another 3-3 tie on Jan. 24 at Salem State.

"They play hard," Faia said. "They're a physical team, they skate fast. They don't quit, they have a great first line. Lynn always gives us a physical, great game. We're really going to have to bring our A game to beat them.

"We both know each other," Faia added. "We play twice each year. A lot of these kids grew up playing youth hockey together. Everyone knows each other, so I don't think there's an advantage either way."

Offensively, the key for Swampscott will be to generate as many scoring chances as possible by getting pucks to the net. Faia feels as though the Big Blue haven't been able to get as many shots on net as they'd like throughout the past two games.

"We have to get pucks and bodies on net," Faia said. "The last two games, we haven't gotten many pucks on net. We have to get pucks on net, No. 1. We have to get guys going hard to the net."

Defensively, the Big Blue will have to find a way to limit a Lynn first line that boasts three NEC All-Stars. Brothers Mike and Brian Clougherty, along with John DiFilippo, have teamed up to form one of the more potent first lines in both the NEC and Division 3.

"We have to contain that first line as much as we can," Faia said. "They're a real good line. We have to clear pucks away. We can't give them second or third opportunities. That's where Lynn takes advantage. We have to make sure they don't find loose pucks."

With two NEC teams battling for a bid in the sectional final, Faia feels as though Thursday's game speaks highly of the conference.

"It says a lot for the NEC," Faia said. "A bunch of NEC teams made the tournament this year. We played a tough schedule that prepares us for these games. We play in a strong conference and this says a lot about the NEC, that so many teams got in and we're the last two in the Division 3 North tournament.

"Whoever wins this game, it guarantees that a NEC team will play for the North final," Faia added. "It says a lot for the conference."

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