NEWBURYPORT — In a game between two closely matched programs that strongly believe they are on the verge of better days, Pentucket junior goaltender Sammantha Bomba made the difference.
A rising star in the Cape Ann League, Bomba halted four power plays and 15 shots in the third period alone to preserve a 2-1 victory for the Sachems over Amesbury in the consolation game of the Newburyport Bank Hockey Classic's Gulazian Division at the Graf Rink.
"It was crazy, there were rushes everywhere," Bomba said after the game. "We obviously didn't have the best record, but it was a great win for the seniors who aren't coming back. Amesbury is a rival. I know Triton-Pentucket is a rivalry, but whenever we play Amesbury, it's a great game."
In seasons that held fewer wins than losses, both the Pentucket and Amesbury high school hockey teams ended their seasons yesterday feeling their players will be ready to push Cape Ann League foes next season.
For the Sachems, who include students from Georgetown High, it was the first win in three tries over the Indians and a positive ending on a season that saw the program make marked improvements despite just three wins.
For Amesbury, which has a growing influx of players from Whittier Tech, finishing the season with six wins and another seven games in which they lost by one goal were signs that the proud program is on its way back.
"The kids played three periods of disciplined, hard, good hockey. That's what we're asking for and that's what they give us," coach Chris Kuchar said. "I'm proud of the way the kids battled until the end. Their goalie was outstanding. She came up with some point blank, phenomenal saves, and all the credit goes to her."
Both coaches played mostly underclassmen and said the offseason would be a time to get "bigger, stronger and faster" to compete in the Cape Ann League.
While Amesbury says goodbye to seniors Tyler Daniels, Matt Salvatore, Tony LoVuolo, Jacob Burns, Aaron Sanford and Zack Bolduc, two of its leading scorers were freshman Tabor Smith and sophomore Connor Stevens. Three eighth-graders played on its junior varsity squad.
For Pentucket, the efforts against the Indians were a measuring stick. They lost to Amesbury 5-1 in the second game of the season, lost 3-2 to the Indians on Jan. 28 before prevailing yesterday.
"We had a young club, just four seniors," said Pentucket coach Bill Burns. "We've got a good group of juniors coming back, a bunch of sophomores and played two freshmen today. We feel good about that."
The improvements, Burns said, can be attributed to the leadership example of his four seniors — Chris Gardner, Ryan McCarthy, Josh Potter and Lee Tremblay — and the growth of the young scorers like Tom Pingree and Ian Mitchell and a young defense he believes will be formidable next year.
Both have goaltenders that could make them look very good.
Pentucket dominated the first 30 minutes, but it was Amesbury that struck first when senior forward Jacob Burns beat Bomba as he came around the right side of the net with 12:43 left in the second period. Bolduc and Salvatore assisted on the goal.
Pentucket answered back less than two minutes later when junior JoJo Mango backhanded a rebound past junior goalie Evan King, who had blanked the Sachems on 16 shots up to that point. Mitchell and Pingree were credited with assists.
Pingree then scored the game-winner with 9:24 left in the second when he batted in a rebound past King's right side.
King shut down the Sachems on 13 shots in the first period and ended the game with 27 saves on 29 shots.
Bomba had an easier time in the first two periods, but saved the game in the end.
She rejected four Amesbury power plays in the third period, including 23 seconds of a two-man advantage. She made 15 of her 27 saves in the final 15 minutes to preserve the victory.
"It was great to see her really step up in the third period, and the great news is she's a junior and we get her back next year," Burns said. "She's really carried this team all season long. When we've been on, it's been because she's had a great game."