LOCKED IN – Junior goalie Justin Harding and co-captain Mike Lucey (15) zone in on the puck while Anthony Forziati (8) reaches for it against Reading last night at Burbank Arena. Harding finished with 32 saves. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

Published in the December 21, 2017 edition.


READING — If nothing else, the Wakefield boys’ hockey team sent a message to upcoming opponents, loud and clear, that they are capable of skating with anyone, including an upper echelon program such as the Reading Rockets.
On Wednesday night, in front of a loud, boisterous crowd at Burbank Ice Arena, the Warriors slugged it out with perennial hockey powerhouse Reading, skating to a 1-all tie deep into the third period. But as is often the case, the snake-bit Warriors suffered the indignation of a borderline penalty, in this instance a high sticking infraction, which ultimately led to a Rockets power play goal.
Reading added an empty-netter to wrap up the scoring, 3-1, and notch their third win in as many tries while Wakefield continues to seek its first win of the young season at 0-3.
“We were looking for a breakout game and were hoping it would be tonight,” said Wakefield coach Chris Gianatassio. “But to lose only 2-1, 3-1 with the empty net goal, was definitely a step in the right direction.”
That positive step, according to Gianatassio, was the end result of two productive days of practice with a focus on defense. In their previous game with Winchester, the Warriors were guilty of allowing the Sachem forwards to penetrate with ease, triggering prolonged visits to the offensive zone and far too many second and third chances on a pair of besieged goaltenders. But facing Reading, the Warriors proved very adept at minimizing opportunities. While the Rockets outshot Wakefield by a wide 34-14 margin, many of the bids were of a low percentage variety.
“Over the two days following Winchester, we had a pair of great practices,” said Gianattasio. “Our focus was to get tougher, particularly in our own end. We needed to have a defensive mentality first and foremost, and I think that focus was there throughout this game.”
Of course, it helps to have a sharp goaltender backstopping the effort. In his first start of the season, junior Justin Harding turned aside all but two of the 34 shots he faced, including a half-dozen during a 1:38 span while his team successfully killed off a 5-on-3 man advantage.
“I was definitely seeing the puck very well tonight,” said Harding. “I knew we were facing a good team but stayed focused. Our forwards definitely helped tonight, coming back to join the defense and keeping the shooting lanes open so I could see the puck.”
Harding’s highlight save occurred midway through the second period, when he gloved a blistering shot from Michael Tobin, who broke in as part of a 2-on-1.
“Justin played lights-out and kept us in this game until the very end,” said Gianatassio.
The Warriors seemed far more relaxed facing Reading than they had in their earlier games against Lowell and Winchester. They skated with purpose, passed the puck with improved accuracy, never seemed to panic, and did not waste limited opportunities. Midway through the first period, for instance, linemates Cam Souza, Dan Guarino, and Brendan Vacca combined for a nice redirect that nearly beat Rockets netminder Matt Coughlin. And Anthony Forziati was his usual formidable self, drawing added attention each time he collected the puck and accelerated into the offensive zone.
But it was junior Thomas Harrington who finally silenced the Reading crowd with a go-ahead goal 2:40 into the third. With the Rockets Matthew Fiorenza serving time for cross-checking, Harrington and company took full advantage of the power play and collapsed on the Reading net, slamming home the long-awaited goal in the midst of a scrum. Credited with helpers were Forziati and Matt Petitto.
The Wakefield lead, however, was short-lived. Just over a minute later, Reading’s Nick McFarland collected a feed from Matthew Gallagher and beat Harding for an equalizer.
While disappointed, all was not lost on the Wakefield bench. A tie and a point, under these circumstances, would have been acceptable. But the officials, relatively uninvolved to this juncture, whistled a surprised Petitto for a high stick with 3:13 left in the game. Deflated, the Warriors yielded a power play goal to Tobin, who more than made up for his earlier miss.
Gianatassio pulled out all the stops and substituted Harding for an extra skater with 1:55 remaining but it wasn’t long before Reading’s Jack Giuliotti knocked in an empty-netter.
“Despite this loss, the players feel good about how they performed tonight,” said Gianatassio. “We’re very happy with the effort and confident we can build on this in the weeks ahead.”
Wakefield will host non-league opponent Lexington in a meeting Saturday night at Burbank.