NOLAN DEGREGORIO scored a goal and assisted on two more in North Reading’s comeback, 5-4 win over Amesbury on Saturday. (Eric Evans File Photo)


SAUGUS — Early in the second period of Saturday’s season rematch with Cape Ann League nemesis Amesbury, the North Reading Hornets appeared to be well on their way to consecutive defeats, down a pair of goals and admittedly not playing their best hockey.

But igniting a mid-game rally was junior defenseman Nolan DeGregorio, who scored his first of the season and then served up assists on back-to-back power play goals that ultimately powered the Hornets to a clutch 5-4 win.

Adding to the come-from-behind drama was junior forward Luke Baker, who polished off a breathtaking coast-to-coast rush in the third period with what proved to be the game-winning goal.

“The message was that we’re better than this,” said North Reading Coach Brian McAuliffe, when asked what led to the turnaround after a lethargic first period. “We were able to dig deep and took it to them in the second period. The hard work really paid off.”

McAuliffe referenced the first meeting between these clubs, staged in early January which concluded with an Amesbury 4-3 overtime win after the Hornets fought back from the same 3-1 deficit to tie it.

“It was nice this time to be able to come back with four unanswered goals, turn the tables on them, and hang on for this important win,” said the coach, whose record improved to 5-7 overall with 8 games remaining in the regular season.

Amesbury controlled the tempo at the outset, which led to a go-ahead goal from Brady Coburn several minutes into the game. North Reading struck back quickly, however, on Tyler Morello’s first of two on the night. The game-tying sequence began with a Rob Daley trademark end-to-end rush. Amesbury goalie Trey Marcotte, one of two grandsons of former Boston Bruins great Don Marcotte, made the initial stop but yielded to a trailing Morello off the rebound.

Amesbury went up 3-1, with a goal near the end of the first and another as second period action got underway, from Hunter Belisle and Maddox LeBlanc respectively.

First to strike on the North Reading comeback trail was DeGregorio, who fired a blast from the right point that beat Marcotte waist-high, unassisted at 10:41. Exactly two minutes later, the Hornets capitalized on a five-on-three opportunity, with Teddy Suny scoring off a feed from Max Forristall. DeGregorio also figured in the goal that tied the contest at 3-3 but the surging Hornets were hungry for more. Amesbury got a man back but remained down one and before long, Morello cashed in with a backhander off a feed from DeGregorio. Three goals in three minutes, two power play tallies, and the Hornets were on top, 4-3, with DeGregorio leading the way.

“Nolan has been our most physical player all season and has delivered some of the biggest hits I’ve seen in a long time,” said McAuliffe. “He drastically improved in the off-season and it was great seeing him score his first career goal and assist on the other two at such a key time in the game.”

The North Reading faithful raised the roof on the Kasabuski Rink when Baker beat netminder Marcotte to put his team ahead, 5-3. The goal, assisted by Matt Young, was insurance in the truest sense because the other Marcotte grandson, Bodie, closed the gap with a late score.

“Speedie (Matt Young) passed it up to me and I was able to split the defensemen,” said unsung hero Baker, describing his first goal of the season. “I just deked out the goalie and put it in the right side of the net.”

“Luke has been working hard and we gave him the green jacket after the last game,” said McAuliffe, describing the post-game honor that Hornet skaters earn for playing above and beyond. “That was a finesse goal, a real beauty worthy of a highlight reel.”

With just over a minute left, Amesbury exchanged Marcotte for an extra-attacker and threatened but North Reading goalie Charlie Cooper, who turned aside 28-shots in all, stonewalled the effort.

“We’re currently 25th in a field of 32 teams that make it in,” explained McAuliffe when asked where his team stands as the playoffs approach. “We’re up two spots since last week and tonight’s win will certainly help in the standings. If we stay the course and keep playing the way we’re playing, we’ll have a pretty good chance of getting into the tournament.”

North Reading hosted Rockport last night (results in after press time) and will travel to face rival Lynnfield Saturday afternoon at noon.