Another test awaits the Big Blue in state semi

Swampscott goalie Dan Johnson has been on his A game throughout the state tournament. (Item Photo by Spenser R. Hasak)

The Swampscott boys hockey team has had to battle through a season full of close games, which prepared the Big Blue for a run through the Division 3 North tournament. The Big Blue now sit just two wins away from a state title, but the next game on the schedule, the Division 3 state semifinal, could be their toughest test yet.

The opponent will be Hanover (23-0-1), the Division 3 South champion. The Indians have had a phenomenal season by any account, going 19-0-1 in the regular season before earning a No. 1 seed in Division 3 South and rolling to a sectional title. They earned a bye in the opening round before beating No. 17 Abington, No. 8 Bishop Stang, No. 20 Ashland and No. 3 Rockland, giving up just one goal in the entire tournament. On the season, Hanover has scored 128 goals and given up only 28.

“They’re a powerhouse, they’ve been this far before and they’ve won it all before so they know what they’re doing,” said Swampscott coach Gino Faia. “They’re a strong team that plays well on offense and defense, they have great goaltending and they’re well-coached.”

Swampscott (13-5-6) will have to contain several high-scoring players if they want to earn a win. Zach Taylor leads the Indians this season with 36 goals and 61 points, while Connor Morris leads them in assists with 29 (44 points) and Lucas Lanagan put up 39 points.

The Big Blue do have some things going in their direction as well. The No. 8 seed in the Division 3 North tournament, Swampscott had to beat No. 9 Revere/Malden in the preliminary round before beating No. 1 Lowell for a trip to the semifinals. There, the Big Blue took down rival N0. 5 Lynn in their third meeting of the season for a trip to the final, where they defeated No. 11 Wayland by an impressive score of 7-2.

“We had to go through a couple of tough NEC opponents that had seen us multiple times during the year, and obviously we notched the big upset over Lowell which was big for us,” Faia said. “We’ve been playing our best hockey over the past couple weeks, which is exactly what you want this time of year.”

Swampscott has earned its wins mainly by playing great defense in front of a great goalie. Senior Dan Johnson has been rock-solid in net for the Big Blue all season long and that has continued into the tournament.

“Dan’s been around for four years now and he’s been so great for us, but he really does save his best for the playoffs,” Faia said. “He’s come up with so many big games, including stealing us the Lynn game (in the Div. 3 North semifinal), and he’s proven himself as one of the best goalies in our league.”

The Swampscott offense is paced by senior captains Stevie Santanello (23 goals, 20 assists) and Dom Codispoti (16 goals, 19 assists) as well as seniors Brett Benoit (14 goals, 11 assists) and Thomas O’Keefe (six goals, 15 assists) and sophomore Drew Olivieri (eight goals, 17 assists).

So the game will come down to a matter of strength versus strength when Hanover’s high-flying offense meets Swampscott’s stout defense. If Swampscott can find a way to get a win, it will be off to the state championship game Sunday at TD Garden.

“We just try to relay the message, the old cliche, that we have to take it one game at a time and keep our emotions in check,” Faia said. “It’s a great opportunity for our guys, especially our seniors as they close our their careers, so we want to take advantage of it. We have to go out there and play good team defense, cash in on scoring chances and keep relying on Danny in the net if we want to win this one.”

Swampscott and Hanover will drop the puck tonight (6) at Stoneham Arena.

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