Lowell, MA – This afternoon Neutral Zone was able to tune in to watch the Merrimack Valley Conference’s Dual County League 1 Championship from the Tsongas Center. The 7-1-1 Raiders of Central Catholic took on the 8-1-0 Redmen of Tewksbury in their third matchup of the season. The two teams split the season series, each scoring four goals in their respective victories. The storyline of this game changed just before puck drop as two of Tewksbury’s star players, senior forward Will O’Keefe and junior forward Jason Cooke were both out for this game. That would certainly make the road to victory tougher without their two primary offensive catalysts, but on they went. This game was played in three conventional 15 minute periods.
In the first period the initial few minutes featured a few nerves with some missed passes and overskating pucks but both teams quickly rounded into form after one shift through the lines. As the period began to take shape, Central Catholic owned the possession and the pace. They would strike first as they built offensive momentum eight minutes into the frame. Freshman forward Charlie Winship took a one touch pass from senior defender AJ Grenier near the half wall and let a wrister fly that squeaked through the Tewksbury goalie’s pads: 1-0 Raiders. Just a few seconds later it looked as though the Raiders had doubled their lead as sophomore Braedan Curran poked home a loose puck in the crease, but the referees conferred and waved off the goal due to a hand pass…on we went. Just a few second after that, the Raiders were back on the attack, big senior defender Nick Peters took it upon him himself to slither around coverage and fire home a shot below from just north of the goal line that snuck over the goalie’s shoulder: 2-0 Raiders. That would be our score at the end of one and the momentum lied on the Raider bench.
In the second period, it was more of the same as the Raiders came out of the room with some jump, although they were whistled for an infraction two minutes into the frame. No matter, as senior forward Michael Dinges took a pass from behind the net by senior defender Tyler DiBurro and a 2-on-1 developed. As a result, he ripped home a shorty up high from the faceoff dot: 3-0 Raider lead. Ultimately the remainder of the period featured more Central Catholic possession, but the Redmen did push back to create their best push of the game with a power play with under five minutes to go and the ensuing momentum carried them for a couple of shifts after that. They were unable to solve Central’s goalie Michael Brothers and both teams retired with a 3-0 lead in favor of the Raiders.
In the final frame, Central Catholic took it to another level and put the game out of reach. Just about a minute into the proceedings the Raiders created a 3-on-1 thanks to a bounce pass by Dinges and junior forward Aidan O’Connell found senior forward Mike Collett near the left post for the tap-in: 4-0 Raiders. About a minute later they would add another one: Grenier took a pass wrapped around the left wing half wall and slid along the blue line to change his shot angle and beat the Tewksbury netminder from outside: 5-0 Raiders. At this point, the Redmen began to stage their biggest push of the night. They were able to finally get on the board when junior defenseman Caden Connors flipped a puck over the defense, landing on the stick of senior Asa DeRoche which created a 2-on-1 that junior Sean Lane stashed home with a backhander: 5-1 was the score. For the next ten minutes Tewksbury was able to create a number of great chances and senior netminder Chase Perault turned away a couple of Grade A chances to keep the momentum going. With four minutes remaining they added another tally as junior Connors made a nice play at the blue line, fed it to junior forward Sean Lane and the puck found it’s way over to Cole Stone who’s shot bounced off a defender’s foot and flipped over the Central Catholic netminder to make it 5-2. That would be your final score: the Raiders are MVC DCL 1 Champions.
- F Michael Dinges, Central Catholic
- D AJ Grenier, Central Catholic
- F Sean Lane, Tewksbury
- It’s worth noting the loss of Will O’Keefe and Jason Cooke for this game put Tewksbury at a disadvantage. The Redmen played admirably here and played hard all game long, but those two players are difference makers in a contest like this. Although, they were not the only players missing due to COVID-19 contact tracing: senior Dan Kusmaul and junior Billy Doherty were also out of the lineup. The shortened bench certainly added another measure of adversity. Still, the Redmen gave it all they had today and should be proud of what they put on tape today.
- It would have been great to see what this Central Catholic team could have done outside of the MVC: they are a team purpose built to play fast and score goals. They move the puck well, they know how to find soft ice and they can stickhandle through traffic. It’s no surprise that they won the MVC DCL 1, but you would have to think that they would have been Super 8 contenders in a non-pandemic altered season.
- No matter who their opponent is, Tewksbury is just a pain of a team to play. They work hard, they forecheck aggressively and they are physical with some size. They were one of the top teams in Division 2 yet again this season and with some talented returnees, they should continue to make noise next season.
- Credit to senior Tewksbury goaltender Chase Perault, who may have given up five today, but he made a couple of sparkling saves, one in particular with his trail leg moving across to protect the weak side. He went out playing his best game of the season, and while it may not have been the result he wanted – he kept his team firmly in this game, especially in the third period.
- The more we watch Central Catholic’s Aidan O’Connell, the more we like his game. His vision in this game cut through all other observations because he was able to set up his linemates for so many quality looks at the net. He has good acceleration ability and passes with a purpose: delivering feeds to space or snapping them off with authority tape-to-tape. Look out for him this summer and into next season: he will be a priority watch list candidate.