8th GRADER Charlie Cooper has been solid between the pipes for the Hornets this season. North Reading will host Amesbury on Saturday, 5 p.m. at Kasabuski Rink. (File Photo)


SAUGUS — While there’s still plenty of hockey remaining in the season, it’s never too early to start playing with a sense of urgency, particularly following three straight defeats.

In a recent seven-day span, North Reading suffered a lopsided 9-3 loss to archrival and Cape Ann League-leading Lynnfield, was edged 2-1 by Triton several days later, and then fell hard again, in a 9-4 rout at the hands of Newburyport. When Pentucket paid a visit to Kasabuski Rink last Saturday night, it proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Hornets.

On the strength of a pair of first period goals and two more in the third, North Reading snapped the recent scoring drought, handing the struggling Panthers (formerly known as the Sachems) a convincing 5-1 defeat.

“Nine games into the season, I would agree this was a must-win, as much as you can get one,” said North Reading Coach Brian McAuliffe, who is currently 4-6 overall. “I think that was our best game so far this season. We certainly executed on all the things we’ve been practicing.”

One of those “things” that McAuliffe referred to was the power play, which was two-for-two on the night. According to the coach, the players approached him seeking an endorsement of a modified man-advantage strategy, namely deploying a man to stir up a little havoc in front of the net. In ice hockey, this has been a long-standing power play tactic but not one that North Reading had applied with consistency. Facing Pentucket, the approach was highly effective.

“I have to give credit to the boys,” McAuliffe said. “At a recent practice, they came to me armed with an idea for a different type of power play. Sometimes, you have to turn to your employees to get the best ideas. Vinny Pastore really took a lot of abuse in front but that was his job. His effort opened up a lot of skating room for his teammates.”

Midway through the first period, Max Forrsistall fired a wristshot at Pentucket goalie Ben Guertin who swept the puck aside, directly to the waiting stick of Duncan Gulino, who knocked in his first of the season.

With 42 seconds left in the first and skating on the power play, Forristall fed Christian Lava, who buried his third to claim a 2-0 North Reading lead. The tally, also assisted by Robert Daley, ultimately proved to be the game-winner.

Early in the middle frame, Forristall, who had provided the helpers on the first two Hornet goals, drilled home one of his own, his third of the campaign. While Pastore was earning his keep occupying a pair of defensemen in front, Forristall rounded the net and surveyed the landscape, finally settling for a hard shot from the left circle that banked off the goalie’s pads for a commanding 3-0 lead.

At the tail end of the second, Pentucket snapped the shutout, also on the man advantage, on a goal from Chase Pelletier. But when play resumed for the third stanza, the Hornets’ scoring leader Daley added a pair to lock up the win. His 13th was off a nice touch-pass from Gulino and later, he notched his 14th, from Thomas Gazda.

“It was a team effort tonight and will definitely bring the energy back in for the next game,” said Daley, who also has 7 assists for 21 total points. “I think my speed has been a factor but also the guys are helping me with my production and I’m thankful for that. For example, that was a great play from Duncan.”

“It can be a blessing to be the best player on the ice,” said McAuliffe, of Daley. “But you need support and I think the other guys are seeing that they need to step up and support him. And I agree that some of the double teams on Robbie open up opportunities for others.”

A visit to face Northeast on Monday evening was postponed due to a snowstorm with a makeup date to be determined. North Reading faced Essex Wednesday evening (results in after press time) and will next host Amesbury in a rematch on Saturday, 5 p.m. at Kasabuski.