Photo: The final scrum as Belmont’s Kevin Dacey saves with 9.1 seconds remaining to secure the 3-2 win over Arlington.
Belmont High Boys’ Hockey head coach Fred Allard looked bewildered, nearly speechless coming out of the locker room after addressing his team after Belmont stunned number 1-seed Arlington, 3-2, before a raucous Belmont’s traveling supporters in a standing-room-only O’Brien Rink in Woburn on Saturday, March 3.
“We call it our ‘Redemption Tour’ this year as we play teams we lost to a lot,” he said. “We have seniors who lost 9-0, 8-0 to Arlington early in their careers. To come back and win, amazing. I’m happy to be the coach of Belmont and just proud to coach this team.”
Saturday’s game was 43 minutes of grind it out hockey and two minutes of a wild roller coaster of emotions as Belmont seemingly blew its best chance against the state favorites by giving up a tying goal with at 1:53 left only to be rescued by “Mr. March” sophomore Justin Roche’s wraparound at 23.5 seconds. The Marauders seemingly lost the lead for the second time with less than 10 seconds remaining but for a miraculous save by game MVP senior goalie Kevin Dacey and a correct call by the refs.
When the final horn blared, the team skated to where the Belmont supporters were located and despite three inches of tempered hockey panels, celebrated with fans, friends, and family.
For Dacey, the game was four years in the making.
“This was definitely a personal game for me. As a freshman I was pulled in my very first game against Arlington so ever since then I’ve wanted to get them back and I’m just so happy it happened.”
Belmont lost away to Arlington, 4-1, in January that included a major dust-up that saw Dacey and Belmont’s leading scorer Steve Rizzuto bounced from the game. There was an equally nasty affair in Belmont in February that saw the Marauders on the wrong end of a 2-0 loss that included an empty-netter.
“We lost twice but they were really a bouncing puck either way that could have changed it. We knew we could play with them,” said Dacey.
“He’s been the backbone of our team since his sophomore year. He’s kept us in most games and certainly kept us in this one. He’s one of the top goalies in the state and he’s got a heart of steel,” said Allard of his goaltender.
Belmont came out skating against Arlington and its aggressive play paid off twice as the Marauders took advantage of a pair of SpyPonder miscues. Belmont took a 1-0 lead in the first period when an errant pass during an Arlington line change was picked up by senior forward Ryan Noone leading to senior captain Dennis Crowley beating the SpyPonder’s goalie Jack Pinard five-hole with 3:59 left in the period.
Belmont’s doubled its lead in the second period courtesy of a bad defensive decision seconds after the puck dropped when outstanding freshman forward Ben Fici scored his ninth of the season from out in front at 10 seconds, assist from senior Alec Morin and that man Rocha.
For the remainder of the game, the storyline was if Belmont could hold on against the defending Super 8 champs with its high-powered offense. For most of the second period, Belmont’s defense kept Arlington to long-range shots that Dacey smothered with general ease.
In the third period, Arlington used its speed and strength to creep back into the match. It capitalized on a Belmont penalty, scoring early in the period (with 13:27 remaining) by junior defense Dara Conneely. Belmont stalling offense and Arlington’s ability to stay in the Marauders’ zone and continually squeeze the Belmont’s defense into Dacey silence the normally boisterous supporters.
The seeming inevitable came as Arlington threw four players into the slot and senior wing Mike Callahan jumped on a loose puck seven feet from the goal and powered it between Dacey’s pads to tie it at 2 with 1:53 left in the period.
With overtime looming and Arlington controlling the game, it appeared Belmont was running on borrowed time against the energized SpyPonders.
But for Allard, the mood on the bench was resilient as the team recalled its first playoff game a few day back coming back from behind four times to defeat Melrose in the final minute. “These boys have responded every step of the way and I knew when [Arlington scored] we’d grind it out and find a way to win.”
Enter Rocha. On the second of two faceoffs in Arlington’s end, the sophomore took a Noone pass to the net and completed a classic wraparound by Pinard’s outstretched pads.
“I don’t even know what happened. I just got the puck down low in the slot and put it right around the goalie,” said Rocha who scored consecutive playoff winning goals. “It was all about wearing down the defense by keeping the puck down low. We just wore them down.”
“We talk about ‘dirty’ goals, simply get it to the net and put home the rebound. Four of our five goals against Melrose was just that. And Rocha’s was just that way,” said Allard.
But Arlington provided one last heart-stopping moment when a near-perfect pass from the right circle met a pair of SpyPonders at the left corner of the net with 9.1 seconds remaining. But Dacey dove across the mouth of the goal to barely keep the puck from crossing the line.
“It was just desperation. I just threw my stick out there and I just pulled it off the goal line,” said Dacey. As Arlington attempted to continue the play, the referee behind the net apparently blew the play dead to the bafflement of Arlington’s players who let their emotion get the best of them.
While pointing to Belmont’s playoff loss to St. John’s Prep in last year’s tourney as the “tipping point” in the resurgence of the program, Allard said the Arlington game is equally as important to the future of the sport.
“All you have to do is look at all the Belmont people who came out today and you realize that hockey in Belmont unlike a lot of things has returned. There is a history and a camaraderie and a level of success we haven’t had in a number of years so this is special. This will mean a lot for years to come,” said Allard.