Photo: Belmont’s senior goaltender Nico Carere.
Belmont High School Boys’ Hockey Head Coach Fred Allard said after Saturday’s 1-0 overtime quarterfinal victory over St. Mary’s of Lynn, that his team was eager to get back to the Division 1 North semifinals at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell.
“We have some unfinished business and we’re looking forward to taking care of it,” said Allard, referring to a 3-2 overtime loss to Waltham in the 2018 North Semis as the Hawks went on to capture the Division 1 state crown.
In a game that saw four goals in a bonkers final four and a quarter minutes of the match, Belmont hung on to defeat the number one seed and Middlesex League rivals Reading Memorial High, 3-2, at Lowell.
Belmont will meet St. John’s of Shrewsbury in the sectional finals on Monday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tsongas Arena.
What appeared to be an insurance goal by sophomore forward Matty Rowen with 1:19 remaining in the third period, giving Belmont a 3-1 lead, proved to be the game winner as Reading’s senior defender Cam Lawhorne rocketed a slap shot from the slot by Belmont’s stellar senior goalie Nico Carere with just under a minute to play to cut the lead to 3-2.
Rowen solo effort – nudging the puck five hole by Reading’s goalie Dylan Emery – came after junior defender Henry Stonehouse’s slap shot off an Emery long rebound snuck inside the right post to snap a 1-1 tie with 2:44 in the period.
Reading had evened the contest when freshman forward Evan Pennucci – who a minute earlier hit the post – redirected a shot by Carere with 4:15 left in the third. Belmont’s senior netminder had until then been unstoppable between the pipes, going nearly 90 minutes of shutout hockey since last being scored upon by Andover in the first round of the tournament.
And it was Carere who preserved the victory with two rapid fire, in close saves in the final eight seconds, ending sprawled on his back with his pads covering the puck as the siren sound.
The semifinal was a physical, slow moving affair between teams that were all too familiar with the other having battled twice this season with the Marauders coming up on the losing end of a pair of one-goal games.
After a cautious first period with far more icing calls than actual scoring opportunities – an apparent Reading goal was disallowed for a high stick – Belmont began using the larger NHL-sized rink to its advantage to take control of the game by using its better team speed to open space and create passing lanes.
While the offense found a rhythm, the defensive pairings led by junior Tom Grace, senior Ryan Hoffman, Stonehouse, junior Nolan Duffy and senior Mike Hardy stood tall on the blue line and was able to win most of the battles along the boards and behind the net. The back line was presented by Allard with the “Jax,” a firefighter’s helmet that signifies Belmont’s Player(s) of the Match.
Belmont got on the scorer’s sheet during the only penalty of the game – the second game the Marauders have not been called for an infraction – when Reading went down a man on a Pennucci cross check.
And the goal was right out of the playbook: Grace found senior all-star Justin Rocha as he circled behind the net. As the Reading players turned to face Rocha, senior Matt Brody drifted into the slot and one-timed his line-mate’s pass by Emery high glove side with 1:14 left in the second.
Belmont continued to dominate the majority of the third before Pennucci’s tally started the goal barrage.