FRAMINGHAM — It was dark, windy, and cold outside Framingham’s Loring Arena on Sunday night. Still, dozens of Grafton Gators fans braved the cold to congratulate the players before they embarked on the long bus ride home.
Huddled under the light of one street lamp at the corner of the parking lot, fans gave the weary, disappointed players hugs, moral support, and flowers.
Just moments before, the Grafton hockey team’s championship hopes were dashed in the MIAA Division 4 semifinals with a 5-1 loss to the No. 1 seed Norwell.
The game, played before two raucous fan sections, was physical – chippy, even – throughout, and both teams had their fair share of scoring opportunities. Yet, the Clippers came out strong and never relinquished their lead.
With 7:24 left in the first period, Norwell’s Timmy Ward drove the puck into the back of the net. Five minutes later, Matt Cerrutti ripped a long-range shot to double the Clippers’ lead. Ward scored again in the second period.
The goals put Grafton behind, but they continued to fight and created some of their best opportunities of the night. With five minutes left in the second, Keegan Gilmore found an opening and scored the Gators’ first goal.
Grafton played their best hockey of the night in the following minutes. The Gators, with a new sense of confidence, were skating faster and making plays. If not for the heroic play of Norwell’s goalie Sean Donovan, the Gators may have evened the game.
But it was not meant to be for Grafton. At the end of the second, Quinn Simmons scored, and midway through the final period, Austin Shea made the score 5-1 in favor of Norwell.
“It was a tough result, it was not what we wanted,” Grafton head coach Mike Binkoski said. “But I can’t put us down; we played hard, our kids battled right to the end.”
“You’ve just got to tip your cap. Sometimes the other team is a little bit better, and tonight they certainly were,” he said.
The boisterous Grafton fan section, which competed all night with the equally passionate Norwell crowd, fell silent by the end of the third period. However, in the final seconds, the Gators’ fans organized one last chant: “Thank you, seniors!”
Binkoski echoed the appreciation for the seniors.
“Their commitment to the program and their leadership is unbelievable,” he said. “[This is] our first year alone without the co-op and they’ve set us up for success.”