By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Two years ago, the Triton hockey team clinched its spot in the state tournament during the final game of the season. This year, Amesbury (8-9-2) will have to do the same after the Indians fell to Marblehead 4-1 yesterday afternoon to kick off the 18th annual Newburyport Bank Classic.
“It’s all going to come down to one 45-minute hockey game,” Indians coach Chris Kuchar said of his team’s season. “Our kids have a lot of heart, and I told them it’s going to be pretty exciting (tomorrow), having to win to get in. This is what we play hockey for. Let’s see what happens.”
The Magicians (16-4) started the day off making sure the going would be rough for Amesbury, pressing Indian goalie Jeff Bucyk from the start. Eight minutes in, Liam Gillis slipped the puck past Bucyk’s right skate, assisted by Dean Fader and Trip Franzese, to put Marblehead up one.
The second period saw the Indians jump out fast, thanks to a Tabor Smith breakaway goal against Magician goalie Harrison Young just two minutes in. The Indians would have plenty of looks at Young as the period progressed, including some decent setups, but none of them would work out and both squads entered the third period tied at one.
Ian Maag waited five minutes into the final frame to hit the mark with a wrap-around goal, assisted by Tom Koopman and Ty Bates, that gave his Magicians the edge. Bates added onto the Marblehead lead himself when he lifted the puck past Bucyk’s left ribs, assisted by Koopman.
With 20 seconds to go, Maag scored a power-play empty-netter, assisted by Matt Koopman, that would put the Indians’ backs against the wall, facing Hudson (6-9-4) tomorrow afternoon.
“Today we ran into a team that’s big, fast and strong,” Kuchar said of Marblehead. “They’ve got a lot of upperclassmen there with experience playing in the Garden. Our kids worked their tails off the entire game, and we’re a young team. I thought Bucyk played really well in net. Our kids played with their hearts, but in the end, we just ran out of gas.”
“They beat Newburyport last week,” Magicians coach Bob Jackson said of Amesbury. “Newburyport is picked to go to the state tournament. So that’s a good team right there. We knew that they were going to be tough. We knew that they were going to be strong. They’ve got some big kids. They’re a team that’s on the rise. They’re a team to reckon with in the future. And we knew that they’d be fighting for their lives. It’s never good to go into your last game of the season needing a win.”
Not helping Amesbury’s chances tomorrow is the fact that it will be without the services of its leading goal scorer, Anthony Licciardello, who suffered a season-ending injury during the Indians’ 2-2 tie against Lynnfield last Thursday night.
“It’s a huge factor,” Kuchar said of losing Licciardello. “He’s a real presence out there on the power play. He’s a presence out there just with his size. And the other part is, the line has been playing together for 10 or 11 weeks. And they just switched to a brand new line after one practice. That’s a big factor. And when you take 16 goals out of your line, that’s another big factor.”