After a rough start to their regular season, the Newburyport hockey team (11-5-4) finished it in style at the Graf last night, winning the Bresnahan Championship of the 17th annual Newburyport Bank Ice Hockey Classic by beating Saugus (11-6-2) 4-1 in a game that was much closer than the score would indicate.
"It's a great tuneup for the (state) tournament," Clippers' coach, Paul Yameen said of the Classic. "(Saugus) is a good team. They're one of the top teams in the NEC. I thought we played very well tonight. I'm very happy with the way we played."
Both teams started the game out as equal as possible, shooting 7-7 on shots, and it was the Sachems who capitalized first on a goal from Kurt Roderigues, who came in on Newburyport goalie Alex Buckley's right side, catching a pass from Nick Sweeney and buried the puck as easy as pie.
But the Clippers kept pace and scored exactly two minutes later when the ever-dangerous pair of Cam Roy and Kris Holmes got together. Roy passed to Holmes who shot the puck up top over Sachems' goalie Nick Hegarty's right shoulder to tie the game going into the first intermission.
The second period played out shot-for-shot again until the Sachems began breaking away, eventually out-shooting Newburyport 12-9, but neither team was able to bury.
The third period saw even more shot-for-shot action, but Port was able to make things happen in this frame. With ten minutes left to play, senior Payson Cahill had a "Hey, Ma, look what I did," goal, assisted by Tyler Cusack and Tim Brennan, that surprised Hegarty and pretty much everyone else in the Graf.
Just 39 seconds later, standout Clipper freshman Ben Ventura scored on a one-hopper over Hegarty's weak right shoulder, assisted by Bresnahan tournament MVP Roy, to jump Port ahead 3-1. The final minute of play saw Saugus pulling Hegarty in favor of the six-on-five man advantage, which became a six-on-four when Roy was called for a roughing penalty in the last 20 seconds of play. But the Clippers would still find a way to score an empty-netter, courtesy of junior Nick Mombello, assisted by Connor Wile.
After starting the season in a hole (1-4-1), Yameen is feeling understandable pride in his team heading into the state tournament.
"If someone asked way back in December when we were 1-4-1 if we'd have 11 wins, people would say no," said Yameen. "But I have all the confidence in the world in my guys. There's a lot of character in that locker room. We started 1-4-1 and we have five losses, so you do the math."
Yameen was also happy with goalie Buckley.
"He was very good tonight," Yameen said of Buckley, who had 28 stops on the evening. "For a team, we were very good from the goal out."
"This is a good tuneup tournament for the tournament," Yameen said of the Classic, which always precedes the states.
Sachems' coach Jeff Natalucci gave credit to the team that wanted it most last night.
"It was a real solid game through two," said Natalucci. "Then in the third period, it came down to who wanted it more, and they did. I give a lot of credit to them. They jumped on their chances, they worked hard to get them and they got them and we didn't."
"They're a tough team," Natalucci said of the Clippers. "No matter who you're playing this time of the year, it's tough. Come the tournament, you've got to play 45 minutes, or you're going home. And maybe more than 45."