The Amesbury hockey team won its Newburyport Bank Tournament opener yesterday afternoon in dramatic fashion, erasing a two-goal deficit late to tie Marblehead 2-2 in regulation before winning in the fifth round of a shootout.
With the result, Amesbury will qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2006, head coach Chris Kuchar said.
“All the effort and all the work they put in during the offseason came down to today,” Kuchar said. “I’m happy for all the kids for the effort that they put in during the offseason to make themselves bigger, faster and stronger, and now it paid off.”
After being beaten in just about every phase of the game for the first two and a half periods, the Amesbury offense came to life as time began to wind down. Trailing 2-0 with about nine minutes to play in the third period, senior forward Connor Stevens received a pass in front of the net from sophomore Keith Kowalick and buried it to cut the deficit to one.
About two minutes later, Amesbury tied the game after senior captain Zach Fitzgerald ripped a slapshot off a pass from sophomore Heath King and it deflected off a defenseman’s stick. Amesbury had a number of other quality scoring chances the rest of the way, keeping the Magicians on their heels before the final buzzer sounded and the game went to a shootout.
The first four rounds of the shootout ended without a goal for either side, as four skaters brought the puck up the ice for each team and failed to beat the other team’s goalie. The closest attempt came in the second round, when Marblehead sophomore Matt Koopman put a good move on Amesbury keeper Jake Harlow, but the puck rung off the post.
Finally, in the fifth round, sophomore defenseman Nick Corcoran took the ice for the second time all season and buried a shot over the right shoulder of Marblehead keeper Harrison Young.
The Amesbury bench exploded in celebration when the young defenseman shot found the back of the net, but the result wouldn’t be final until Harlow stood tall one more time and stopped Marblehead freshman Braden Haley to clinch the victory for the Indians.
“It’s good to see the way the kids responded on the bench for the kids who haven’t played,” Kuchar said. “I’m happy for the kids who sit on the bench, come to practice, bust their [butts] and don’t get an opportunity to play, and they were a big part of the game.”
For MIAA purposes, yesterday’s result was officially a 2-2 tie. Regardless, the result improved Amesbury to 8-7-4 on the year, giving Amesbury the 20 points needed to qualify for the state tournament.
“It’s definitely an experience, to be on the team for four years, it’s awesome,” Fitzgerald said of qualifying for the state tournament. “No words can describe it really.”
For most of the game, it looked as if Amesbury was going to have to wait until Wednesday’s consolation game for a chance to punch its ticket to the tournament. After winning the opening faceoff, Marblehead largely controlled the pace of play, and if not for a few big saves the game could have gotten out of hand fast.
Marblehead took an early lead late in the first period, when senior forward Dean Fader ripped a slapshot past Harlow to give the Magicians a 1-0 lead. Sophomores Tim Kalinowski and Kyle Koopman assisted on the play, and minutes later the Magicians barely missed taking a two-goal lead after a shot rung off the post, and then a chance to put the rebound into a gaping net was deflected away.
Things didn’t get any better for Amesbury in the second period either, as Marblehead outshot the Indians in the period 16-5 and generally dominated the frame. Amesbury had one power play starting at the 8:43 mark, but couldn’t get anything going as the Magicians held the puck in Amesbury’s zone for the first 45 seconds and ultimately killed the penalty without allowing a shot.
The Magicians eventually extended their lead with 3:25 to go in the second, when senior forward Erik Powers received a pass from freshman defenseman Alex DelVento and put it past Harlow to give Marblehead a 2-0 advantage.
Harlow finished the game with 25 saves on 27 shots, and Young finished with 17 saves on 19 shots.
Amesbury will compete for the Newburyport Bank Tournament’s Gulazian Division Championship against Masconomet Wednesday at 7 p.m. Masconomet blew out Bishop Fenwick in their first round game 5-1.