LYNNFIELD — As far as good days go, when it comes to the Lynnfield boys hockey team, it doesn’t get much better than Saturday.
The Pioneers (9-4-2) played some of their best hockey of the season, defeating South Division 2 powerhouse Medfield 5-3 at James McVann-Louis O’Keefe Rink to punch their ticket to the North Division 3 tournament.
The Warriors came into the game undefeated at 9-0-4. Ranked in the top-five Division 2 teams in Massachusetts, the Warriors’ stingy defense had surrendered only 19 goals in 13 games and had not given up more than three goals in a game.
However, all that meant nothing to the Pioneers, who jumped ahead right out of the gate, scoring three goals in the first period. Medfield answered back with three straight of its own to tie the game at 3-3 with 13:37 left in the game.
With all of the momentum in Medfield’s favor, the Pioneers dug deep and scored twice in a 1:17 span to take a 5-3 lead, then gutted out the final 10 minutes to seal the upset. The final minute and a half was full of drama after Medfield pulled its goalie to go a man-up. But netminder Aidan Kelly, a senior captain, had nerves of steel, repelling every Warrior shot (save one meaningless one with about 11 seconds to play).
“We have talked about not taking off a whole period or a shift or a battle and that’s what we saw today,” said Lynnfield coach Jon Gardner. “We have had issues when adversity hits, like losing leads, but for us to come back after they tied it up was a big step..
“It was a huge win for us in that we are now qualified for the tournament and we also gave them their first loss of the season. This was playoff hockey.”
Defenseman Jaret Simpson, had a big day with two goals, while forward George DeRoche notched two assists and had a tremendous all-around game.
“George was everywhere today, flying all over the ice,” said Gardner. “Even their coach (Medfield’s Toby Carlow) said he was he best skilled player on the ice and one of the best he has ever seen. Some kids may be bigger or faster but George has such poise and vision protecting the puck. He was great on the boards all night.”
The game was penalty ridden with Medfield being flagged for nine penalties totalling 26 minutes and Lynnfield assessed for eight penalties and 24 minutes, but penalty kills ruled the day as each team was able to muster just one power play goal each, in part because several of the penalties were matching.
Defenseman Danny Mack opened the scoring just 23 seconds into the game, with forward John Simonetti earning an assist.
Lynnfield doubled the lead to 2-0 at the 9:04 mark when Simpson popped home a DeRoche rebound. Just a minute later on a power play, Simpson unleashed a wrist shot from the right point to make it 3-0 (from defenseman Ronnie Fuccillo).
Medfield played its way back in the game with three straight goals, the final on a power play 1:23 into the third period.
Forward Will Garofoli put the Pioneers ahead for good at the 4:27 mark of the third period. Defenseman Michael Caruso launched a shot from the left point that ricocheted off the boards behind the net to Garofoli, camped on the right crease, who flicked it home to make it 4-3 with 10:33 left in the game.
Lynnfield added what turned out to be the game-winner about a minute later. Forward Richie Cassaletto caused a Medfield turnover just outside the blue line. Forward Jeffrey Floramo picked up the puck and broke in alone on net and roofed it, making it 5-3 with 9:16 left.
“Floramo’s goal was huge,” Gardner said. “We are up 5-4 and to have a third-line guy get that goal to make it a two-goal game was just huge.”
Medfield continued to press the rest of the game, but Kelly was up to the task, covering up several loose pucks in scrums to preserve the win. He had help from Fuccillo, who broke up several Warrior threats at crunch time.
“Ronnie made some nice plays at the end, some hard plays, to get the puck out of the zone,” said Gardner.
Gardner said while Lynnfield’s penalty kill was spot on, the power play, especially its five-on-three chances, wasn’t what he had hoped for.
“The entire unit played well, especially DeRoche and Simonetti, who were great on the penalty kill,” Gardner said. “They just didn’t allow Medfield to set up so Medfield didn’t get many quality chances.
“Our power play was better but we still needed to to move the puck quicker and get off the shots quicker,” Gardner said, adding, “We still are not where we need to be on five-on-threes. We need to be at 50 percent, but we’re not even close to being there.”
With tournament qualification behind them, the Pioneers face a challenging schedule as they close out the regular season.
“Today was also great win because we have a stretch of big games coming up with Newburyport and Triton and even North Reading, who you know even though we beat them easily last time, will always have something to throw at you,” said Gardner. “We also have Westwood and Gloucester on the road and those teams have just three combined losses. All those teams combined are 41-13-12, so we have some good teams and a lot of tough hockey ahead of us.”
Lynnfield is back in action Saturday, Feb. 9 at home when the Pioneer hope to avenge an earlier season loss to Triton.