---- — Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Newburyport hockey team has to be the hardest team to predict going forward.
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which the Clippers (10-3-5) make a deep run in the state tournament, one that could end at the TD Garden for the third time in five years. It’s also not hard to imagine a scenario in which the Clippers fall in the opening round of the tournament for the third year in a row.
The up-and-down Clippers gave another glimpse at what they could potentially become Saturday when they tied Canton 2-2 at Canton Metropolis Rink. The tie can be considered nothing short of a huge success for a Clipper team that made the journey down to the South Shore to play the team it faced in both 2010 and 2011 in the state title game at the Garden. Canton entered the game 9-0-0 at home and was riding an 11-game winning streak. During that streak, Canton scored seven or more goals in six games.
Canton (14-3-1) held a 2-0 lead after two periods before the Clippers stormed back. Jay Dylingowski and Tyler Cusack had the Newburyport goals. Nick Mombello, Robert Padellaro, Ben Ventura and Connor Wile had assists.
“It was a real good high school hockey game,” said Newburyport coach Paul Yameen. “It was fast-placed, physical, and it was a great atmosphere.”
Newburyport’s performance was both predictable and unpredictable at the same time. The Clippers didn’t have an inch of momentum following a 5-3 loss to Amesbury Wednesday night, so a blowout in Canton’s favor was certainly in the cards. However, Newburyport has proved all season it’s capable of playing with any team — in a good and bad way — and it certainly has been a team that responds after poor performances.
The Clippers have played one of the most difficult schedules of any Division 2 team in the state, and they have played their best in their nonleague games. They have ties against Canton, Braintree (15-4-1), Franklin (13-5-2) and Beverly (15-0-1) to their record — four teams that have combined to go 57-12-5 this season. On the other hand, the Clippers logged a record of 0-1-1 against Masconomet (8-8-1), a team that may not qualify for the Division 2 North tournament.
On the whole, the Clippers have to be feeling fairly positive about the first 18 games of their season. They won a Cape Ann League title this season for the first time in Yameen’s 10 years as coach. They currently sit as the fifth seed in Division 2 North. And using masshshockey.com as a barometer, it seems the Clippers’ strength of schedule more than made up for a couple of lackluster performances against league foes. The Clippers rank fourth among all Division 2 schools, behind Tewksbury (13-2-1), Franklin (13-5-2) and Coyle-Cassidy (13-3-0), on the site’s RPI rankings. The Clippers have played the No. 2 (Franklin), No. 5 (Canton) and No. 7 (Beverly) teams to a draw.
Still, Yameen wonders where the Clippers would rank had they not suffered losses to Masconomet and Amesbury (8-8-2).
“It’s obviously concerning,” Yameen said. “We battled and skated our style for three periods Saturday, and we didn’t do that Wednesday. We’ve been preaching it for three months now. We still have a little time here to straighten it out.”
Newburyport will play Matignon (7-9-3) tonight in the opening round of the Newburyport Bank Tournament. The Clippers will look to establish some consistency heading into the state tournament. On the other hand, Amesbury will be playing for its postseason life in the Bank Tournament, some welcome drama for a program that experienced a down period from 2007 through last season. The Indians have returned to respectability under third-year coach Chris Kuchar, and they’ll need to earn two points over their final two games in the Bank Tournament to clinch a postseason berth. They’ll open against Marblehead (15-4) this afternoon.
The bad news for Amesbury is that it will be without its top scorer, Anthony Licciardello, for the remainder of the season. The senior forward, who leads the team with 16 goals and 27 points, injured his knee in a 2-2 tie against Lynnfield Thursday night. Kuchar believes Licciardello’s injury is a possible ACL/MCL tear.
“We will miss him, but will press onward,” Kuchar said.