D1 North Semifinal: Belmont Tops Reading 3-2

Lowell, MA – In the second game of a D1 North doubleheader two teams battled it out for the right to take on St. John’s Shrewsbury, who won earlier this evening against Westford Academy. Those two teams are the Marauders of Belmont and the Rockets of Reading. A Middlesex League rivalry renewed – this promised to be a grudge match for summer (and town) bragging rights along the 128 belt.

Onto the first period: on the big sheet at Tsongas, decision making gets amplified and neither team wanted to make a mistake early. There was some tentative play to start but both teams got that out of their systems quickly. Belmont created a couple of good rushes early but they were turned away by the Rockets D. Shortly thereafter Reading began putting more shots on net and Belmont was forced to repeatedly clear the area around their cage. Neither team really grabbed the momentum despite Reading owning the early shot total 11-4. There was a tip-in goal with about three minutes remaining on the clock but it was quickly waved off by the referees as tipped in by a high stick. Both teams went to the room knotted at zero.

In the second period, for long stretches it was much the same as the first: both teams were shutting down momentum by making good stick and body checks in the neutral zone. As the period wore on, Belmont started to grab the bull by the horns and created a flurry of chances with about six minutes left, all turned away by senior goalie Dylan Emery. Things would get tougher for the Rockets as they were assessed a minor penalty with three minutes to go and Belmont would cash in to own the period. Defenseman Thomas Grace fed the puck behind the goal to senior captain Justin Rocha who delivered a tape-to-tape feed to senior captain Matt Brody in the slot: 1-0 Marauders. Shots on goal in the period favored the Marauders as well by a margin of 14-4. Onto the third to decide this one…

The period was a tail of five minute increments. The first five minutes of the period, Reading made a push and put some quality shots on net, all of them solved by senior goalie Nico Carere. The next five minutes was largely a lot of missed handles, icings and equal chances at both ends: a detente if you will. The final five minutes? That’s where the action was. Just over three minutes remaining in the game, Reading tied the score as a shot by senior defender Cam Lawhorne was tipped nicely in front by smart freshman Evan Pennucci: 1-1 was the score. At this point Belmont began to push back and they restored their lead a minute and a half later when star forward Ben Fici fed Henry Stonehouse at the point who fired a puck towards the net which hit a skate in front and deflected in: 2-1 Marauders. That looked to be the backbreaker but Reading started to fight back and create some pressure. But in the process of breaking out of their own zone, big sophomore forward Matty Rowan stole a puck along the half wall, beat the defender back to it and threw it by the goaltender to give the Marauders a two-goal cushion with 1:16 left in the game. Credit to the Rockets though, because they did not go quietly, just 16 seconds later they pulled Emery and with the extra man on the ice junior Landyn Greatorex emerged from behind the net and found Lawhorne at the top of the circle and he fired a tracer to beat Carere: 3-2 was the score with a minute to go. That final minute was pure adrenaline by Reading who had a couple of quality looks at a tying goal, but ultimately Belmont packed the house and did not let the shots get through and they will move on to face St. John’s Shrewsbury in the D1 North Final with a trip to the Garden on the line.

Three Stars:

  1. F Matty Rowan, Belmont
  2. D Cam Lawhorne, Reading
  3. F Ben Fici, Belmont
    TTPA: F Sean Barbera, Reading

NZ Notes:

This was an interesting game to watch because of the ebb and flow to it. There were definitely moments where things were moving slowly and the icings dragged out the balance of play. But then contrast that with the thrilling fury of goals being scored in a three minute span and it encapsulates how unpredictable this sport is at the MIAA level: no lead is safe and no momentum lasts forever. Belmont won this game because of how strong they were on their sticks and their ability to gain inside ice consistently. Reading used their size well and they have skill players with good shots, especially on the back end. They are dangerous if you give them any space to walk in. Belmont has good team speed as well, which will be key to their game against SJS, who is similarly strong and plays physical like Reading will.

For Reading, the game of the night goes to the senior D Cam Lawhorne. He was great on both sides of the red line: he broke up plays 1-on-1 and closed gaps in his own end and he finished plays by taking ice and letting it rip offensively. There’s a reason he played big minutes and was out there in the final seconds: he is a difference-maker at this level. Forward Sean Barbera was big, strong and won nearly every battle for the puck in the offensive zone. Early in the game when the Rockets had offensive pressure cooking, he was at the center of the action by working the cycle along the boards. Finally, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: freshman Evan Pennucci has a bright future ahead of him. Rarely do freshman have the instinctual mindset to disguise intent on jumping into passing lanes, or tip incoming shots. He seems to always put himself in great position to make plays, and as he gets stronger he’s only going to become better: keep an eye on his progress.

For Belmont, it’s hard not to be impressed by Ben Fici. He can do a little of everything for you: he can beat you off the edge with his skating, he can fire it with authority, he doesn’t mind blocking shots, he can deploy the poke check defensively…it’s a pretty solid resume. He was a threat all night to score and finally got on the score sheet in the third period. He is one of those gamebreakers that every team is looking for. We were impressed by the big sophomore Matty Rowan as well. He was working hard all game and generally, players who put in the work get rewarded later in the game and that’s exactly what happened on the GWG. He moves well given his size and he knows how to take the ice the defense gives him and finding lanes to backhand the puck as he slips by the cage. Finally, junior Declan Harrington was fun to watch because he played at top speed all game. He has quick feet and can accelerate well as he moves up ice and we saw him cause matchup problems, forcing the D to respect his quickness.