By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Westborough – As evenly-matched and intense a rivalry as there was when fifth-seed Hudson High matched up with fourth-seed Algonquin Regional High School on March 2 at NorthStar Ice Sports in the Central Mass. Division 3 quarterfinal, many on hand could not help but notice an extra bounce in the Tomahawks’ step as they took to the ice to open the contest.
Perhaps it’s because the team has suffered opening-round losses in each of the past three years and possessed that extra ounce of playoff victory hunger that would sustain the team for at least one more night. Perhaps it was the team’s seniors’ determination that this would not be the night for turning in equipment.
No matter what the motive, it came together nicely for the Tomahawks who skated off with a 2-1 victory before a beyond-capacity crowd that many on hand remarked was the largest ever seen at this venue. Algonquin (13-3-5) now moves on to face top-seed Shrewsbury High in semifinal competition at Fitchburg’s Wallace Civic Center on Tuesday, March 8. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
“We were so determined (to win),” said Tomahawk senior forward Ian Kosovsky, who scored the eventual game-winner. “I’ve been coming here all four years and we’ve lost in the first round in every single playoff so it feels great to get the win.”
“We were very determined. We were using the motive that we hadn’t won a playoff game in six years,” added senior co-captain and goalie Mike Tascione, who recorded 21 saves and was sharp throughout. “We went out early last year and we didn’t want it to happen again so we were very motivated.”
Algonquin seized an early lead at 8:30 of the opening period when sophomore defenseman Dennis Achkinazi was in the perfect position to snap home a rebound on a John Paterson shot that was first stopped by Hawk goaltender Adam Devlin. Hudson would send home the equalizer at 12:55 of the second period when senior co-captain Rocco Malloy slammed the puck home on a wrister that beat Tascione. Assist was credited to Derek Hire.
The contest would be decided late in the second period when Paterson fired a rocket point-blank at Devlin who made a clutch save, but the puck squirted loose and for a split second found its way onto the stick of Kosovsky who slid it home past a sprawling Devlin who had no chance.
“Paterson just drove to the net hard and had a good shot and I came in with some speed, and the puck just kind of bounced out correctly and I backhanded it in,” explained Kosovsky of his eventual game-winner. “Playing before this crowd and winning is really special for us.”
Hudson (12-8-1) would not go quietly launching a frenzied offensive attack late with their playoff lives on the line. Tascione never lost focus and turned back multiple attempts even as Hudson pulled its goalie for the extra skater with just over a minute remaining.
“It’s tiring and it’s a bit stressful but that’s what you sign up for when you’re a goalie,” Tascione explained post-game. “I was ready for it. I just tried to keep my rebounds to the side and gather anything I could.”
“The guys just stayed positive and everyone knew they had to give it everything they had those last two minutes and they did,” said Algonquin head coach Andy McGowan. “We’ve been sending the same message all year. Work hard and win your battles and in a playoff game the stakes are raised a little bit but the guys know it’s the same thing as any other game.”
“We left everything out there,” said Hudson head coach Mike Nanartowich, whose team captured a state championship in 2012. “I thought the last seven minutes we really got on them a little bit and gave them some trouble down the stretch. We just couldn’t find a way to get it into the net. They did a really good job of backing off and taking away second-chance opportunities. I don’t think we had very many second-chance opportunities.”
The Tomahawks now move on to face a red-hot Shrewsbury team that has lost just one game in the regular season. The matchup will be difficult, McGowan admits, but not impossible.
“Every game’s a battle and Hudson worked hard tonight and Shrewsbury is going to be a battle too. We’ve just got to get back to work and be ready to go.”