By Jim Sullivan
---- — With the Cape Ann League shrinking by the season, the Newburyport boys hockey team hosted Division 2 South powerhouse Franklin Saturday and found it was matched up well enough to play to a 1-1 defense-heavy tie.
“We play as tough a schedule as we can,” said Clippers coach Paul Yameen. “I’d rather play these guys 20 times a year. We’ve been playing them for six or seven years now, and it is always a battle. It’s always a close game. They are moving to Division 1 next year, and that’s our plan. We want to go DI status independently, and hopefully we’re going to get there.”
Newburyport (3-1-3) started the day hot, getting its first shot off on Franklin goalie Mike Donaldo just 10 seconds in. The Clippers took three more before Franklin (2-1-2) managed one on Port goalie Alex Buckley.
Just under three minutes into play, Clipper junior Travis Wile found himself in front of the net to take a shot from Nate Hickman and flipped the rubber biscuit over Donaldo’s right shoulder, assisted also by Ben Ventura.
The Panthers started the second period with a scare when Dennis Pisani had a nasty meeting with the ice and was removed from the game with a concussion.
“His head hit the ice,” said Panthers coach Chris Spillane. “There was interference, it caught him off guard. But it was the fall on the ice that got him.”
Wile would serve a 4-minute major for elbowing to give Franklin their best chance so far, but the Clipper D held strong, even lucking out with a shot off the post behind Buckley.
“We’re a physical team,” said Yameen. “We’re going to get our penalties. But I think our kill has been excellent, and I think we saw that. We work on it a lot because we want to play physical. So we understand that we have to kill, and if we can kill it like that, I’m fine.”
“It’s becoming an issue,” Spillane said of his team’s inability to score on the power play. “It’s something we’re working on. I takes five skilled players on a power play to make something happen, but our five skilled players this year aren’t making good decisions.”
The Clippers’ strong defense would not be able to hold forever as Franklin’s Ryan Spillane tipped one in on a wrap-around goal with just 30 seconds left in the period, assisted by Mason Saunders and Joe Bourque, to tie things at one going into the final period.
Both teams came out for the third period equally hungry and equally matched, with each team seeing their opportunities and frights. But the equality would trump all and both teams would have to settle for the non-league tie.
“We’ve played each other for many years, and every year it’s the same type of game,” Spillane said. “It prepares you. You have to play up so when we get to your league, your guys are playing at a higher level than what your league is. So, every time you have a chance to play a quality, non-league opponent, you’ve got to jump on it. Newburyport is consistent. They’re neither up nor down, they’re a good team every year.”
“They’re a good team,” Yameen echoed of the Panthers. “I think they controlled the second (period) a little bit, and we came back and controlled the third. I thought we might have deserved a little bit better than a tie, but hey, they’re a good team and that is why we play them every year.”