NEWBURYPORT — It was an instant classic last night at the Graf Rink, as Newburyport and Triton hockey played a back-and-forth game for the ages that came down to the last shot in a shootout.
Officially, the game will go down in the record books as a 3-3 tie, meaning Triton is now one win away from qualifying for the state tournament, but the Newburyport fans were the ones who went home happy following freshman defenseman Ben Mirageas’ game-winning goal in a shootout following three intense periods of hockey.
Triton took an early lead midway through the first period after a Newburyport turnover in the offensive zone led to a two on one going the other way. Freshman Jed Cutter found senior forward Josh Brown in front of the Newburyport goal, and Brown put the puck past Clippers goalie Noah Kolesha to give the Vikings a 1-0 lead.
Newburyport knotted things up just before the first intermission, however, after junior defenseman Matthew Kelleher got free in the Triton zone and ripped a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Triton goalie Devon Shuman. Ben Ventura and Scott Webster were each credited with assists, and the two teams went into the first break tied at 1-1.
The Clippers carried their momentum into the second period, which they dominated from start to finish. Newburyport outshot Triton 16-1 in the period, and took a 2-1 lead with 4:04 to play when Webster received a pass from Ventura and stuffed it into the back of the net.
That goal was the lone blemish in the period for Shuman, who stood on his head to keep the Vikings in the game and finished the game with 38 saves. By comparison, the Newburyport defense made things easy for Kolesha, who didn’t face any significant challenges in the second period.
That changed in the third period, however, when Triton turned up the pressure on Newburyport and started to make the most of its chances. The Vikings tied the game early in the third period when junior Joe Schickling squeezed the puck through Kolesha’s legs off a pass from senior Kyle Hillick, sending the sizable Triton contingent into a frenzy.
About six minutes later, Triton took the lead after Hillick sent a shot past Kolesha on a goal assisted by Schickling and senior Will McCaffrey. Despite having dominated most of the game, Newburyport suddenly found itself facing a goal deficit with under five minutes to play.
Newburyport got a huge break about a minute later, however, when Triton was hit with a too many men on the ice penalty with 4:55 to play. The Clippers capitalized on the man advantage, as Ventura beat Shuman to tie the game once again at 3-3. Webster and senior Travis Wile assisted on the game-tying goal.
After the game, Triton coach Drew Wile said he wasn’t a fan of the penalty call.
“I feel like Don Cherry right now in 1978 with too many men on the ice,” Wile said. “An absolutely pathetic call. I saw it firsthand, the guy had one foot on the bench and one foot off, but it is what it was and we needed to do a better job killing it.”
With the score still tied 3-3 at the final buzzer, the game went to a shootout. In the first round both Triton and Newburyport’s shooters failed to score, but in the second round, freshman defenseman Ben Mirageas gave the Clippers a one-goal lead, beating Shuman on the top right corner.
With Triton down a goal, Newburyport needed just one stop to claim the hard-fought victory. Despite being overshadowed by Shuman for large portions of the game, it was ultimately Kolesha who stood tall at the end, grabbing the shot attempt from Schickling with his glove to clinch the win for the Clippers.
“I’m very happy with our performance,” said Newburyport coach Paul Yameen. “Triton needed a tie or a win, and they played like it. I thought it was a great high school hockey game, great atmosphere, and that’s what you want to play for. You want to play in front of a crowd like that. It’s a tribute to both programs.”
“The shootout, I don’t care for them, but both goalies played fantastic and both teams played hard, that’s all you can ask for,” Wile said.
With the win, Newburyport improves to 11-7-1 on the season and will play Matignon in the Bresnahan Division Championship on Thursday at 7 p.m. Triton, meanwhile, improves to 8-9-3 and will play for its season in the Bresnahan Division Consolation game against Andover on Thursday at 5 p.m.
“Win and you’re in,” Wile said. “We’ve got a heartbeat, we still control our own destiny, that’s what you want.”