Springfield — There would be no seat-squirming, nail-biting, heart-wrenching overtime drama or white knuckles in this game for Algonquin Regional High ice hockey players, coaches and team supporters. If “mercy rule” existed in high school hockey, officials would have likely evoked it.
The Tomahawks unleashed a thunderous third-period offensive attack delivering four unanswered goals to turn a 2-1 lead into a 6-2 thrashing of Western Mass. champion Westfield High (11-11-1) on what will be a long-remembered St. Patrick’s Day at Springfield’s MassMutual Center. The Division 3 semifinal win sends the seemingly unstoppable Algonquin skaters on to Boston’s TD Garden for a first-ever state championship matchup with Eastern Mass. champion Hanover High (21-3-1) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 20.
Unlike its previous playoff encounters that included wins over Hudson High (2-1), Shrewsbury High (3-2) and Groton-Dunstable (2-1), the latter two being OT shootouts, this was a lopsided matchup from the second period on. Algonquin team supporters who made the hour-plus trip down the Massachusetts Turnpike numbered in the hundreds as legions of fans decked out in school colors sought to exhort their team to victory and were not disappointed.
“The guys worked hard tonight and came ready to play,” said head coach Andy McGowan, whose team record advanced to 16-3-5. “Everyone contributed in one way or another and it’s great to get everyone to do that. It was just an all-around team effort tonight. That’s what we’ve been trying to get all year and to have the entire team contribute one way or another whether it’s on the scoreboard or not, that’s what we need.”
“The other games were so tiring with the overtimes, it’s just great to finish it off, no high stress, no anxiety,” said a visibly tired but still euphoric senior forward Ian Kosovsky post-game.
Westfield jumped out to an early first period lead scoring at 10:24 of the first period, but the advantage would be short-lived. Senior co-captain Joe Sullivan evened things later in the period when he managed to corral the puck along the right side of the net and tuck it home around the post for the equalizer. Assist was credited to Jake Alpert.
Sullivan would make it 2-1 in the second when he took a perfect feed from Thomas Ackil (three assists) on a setup from Patrick Priest and one-timed a missile past the outstretched glove of Bomber goalie Cam Parent. Momentum would turn decisively in Algonquin’s favor from there.
“The guys knew they had to tighten up after the first period,” McGowan explained. “We came out a little flat. We don’t see these guys (Westfield) during the regular season so they really tested us but then we picked things up in the second.”
“I thought maybe the goalie would be caught off-guard by the shot right away instead of giving him time to re-set so it worked,” said Sullivan in describing his game-breaker. “I’d been having a little trouble getting the puck out of the zone and generating offense but tonight it wasn’t a problem.”
It was in the third period that the Tomahawk tidal wave overtook Westfield for keeps. Kosovsky would score twice in quick succession (22 seconds apart) with assists credited to senior co-captain Justin O’Connell and Ackil. Senior co-captain Alex DiPadua would get in on the fun, scoring with help from Kosovsky before Kevin Real capped the offensive surge at the 9:21 mark with assists from Dominic Ferro and Ackil.
“After the second period, we were really getting used to them,” Kosovsky explained. “We hadn’t seen this team at all so we didn’t know what to expect. So we said we had to come out fast, we had to fly and we didn’t want to go into overtime. So we came out as hard as we possibly could and we put the puck away.”
At the other end of the ice, it was senior co-captain and starting goaltender Mike Tascione brilliant as he has been throughout the team’s playoff journey. The poised senior co-captain recorded 16 saves before departing the ice late in the third period with the outcome decided.
The win is yet another step forward towards goals that the team set before Christmas and post in the Tomahawk locker room as a reminder of the group’s overall mission, players say. A state championship tops that list of goals.
“This is the best feeling we could ever have,” said Kosovsky grinning. “We’ve got a lot of momentum going right now and I hope we keep rolling and take it (championship) home.”