Met Winchester in first round Wednesday night
Published February 19, 2021
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
STONEHAM — The Melrose High boys’ hockey team won the 2021 Freedom Division title when the they beat rival Wakefield in back-to-back games, 4-3 on Saturday and 6-0 on Monday, both at the Stoneham Arena.
The Red Raiders had six players with multiple points over the two games led by senior captain Brendan Fennell (3 G, 4 Ast.), senior captain Charlie Haggerty (1 G, 5 Ast.), junior TJ Sullivan (4 G, 2 Ast.), senior Joey McNeely (1 G, 1 Ast.), senior Gavin Crowley (1 G, 1 Ast.) and sophomore Joe O’Keefe (2 Ast.).
The Red Raiders and Warriors entered Saturday’s game tied with 11 points each in the division. The most intense game of the 2021 boys’ hockey season ended in chaos when Wakefield was not awarded a potential game-tying goal in the final seconds as Melrose escaped with a 4-3 win.
The Warriors had cut the lead to 4-3 on senior captain Brendan Vacca’s second goal of the game with 54 seconds remaining. That tally came 6-on-5 with an empty Warrior net.
After a Melrose icing and 5.9 seconds on the clock, Matthew Moniz won the offensive zone faceoff, Oliver Miller played it deep off the boards, Evan Simoneau touched it out front and Vacca sent it through the legs of Melrose goalie Joey Smith and over the line, all in the blink of an eye. The question was, did the puck cross the line before the buzzer sounded?
That brought a peak to a crescendo that had gradually increased throughout a fast, physical, awesome rivalry game, made all the more intense by the presence of fans for the first time all season as Melrose senior parents got their chance to finally see a game in person as they honored seniors Fennell, McNeely, Crowley, Haggerty, Quinn McCarthy, Anthony DelGenio, Mark Aylward, William Pierce, Will Brandon and Kevin O’Keefe.
The Red Raiders outshot the Warriors 31-22 in this one, including a 16-9 advantage in a first period that Melrose would win 2-0. The Red Raiders’ talented first line accounted for both goals as Fennell scored the first assisted by Sullivan and Sullivan connected on the second assisted by Fennell. Melrose had the better chances throughout the first while Smith shut out the Warriors through one half. Fennell finished the game with a goal and two assists; Sullivan had two goals and an assist.
Challenged to respond in the second and final period, Wakefield’s leaders stepped up. Vacca picked the pocket of a Melrose defender trying to skate the puck out of his own zone, spun, shot and finished from the slot to make it 2-1 with 18:57 remaining.
The intensity reach another level in the next five minutes, eventually finishing on a goal from McNeely whose laser of a wrist shot made it 3-1 with about 14 minutes left, assisted by Pierce.
Wakefield senior captain Oliver Miller later picked off a pass in the offensive zone and finished top shelf to score Wakefield’s second unassisted goal of the game, making it 3-2 with 9:51 remaining.
The Red Raiders wasted no time in getting that one back, scoring seconds off the ensuing faceoff when Fennell played a beautiful pass to a speeding Sullivan out front to push the lead to two once again.
The final nine minutes were a battle, with both rivals reaching back for all they had. Wakefield emptied the net with a healthy 2:20 left on the clock, knowing they needed as much time as possible to get two back. Melrose iced it multiple times, just missing on empty, game-ending goals on three occasions as the anticipated victory cheers from the Melrose faithful turned into amused groans each time.
The Warriors were in a unique position of being the villains in this one with a one-sided fan base. It’s a spoiler role they embraced when Vacca made it 4-3 assisted by Miller and Moniz.
The wild ending was made even more chaotic without the benefit of separate locker rooms to cool off during this strange pandemic season. Being forced to transform from ice gladiators back into high school students in the same set of stands, surely meant the rematch was due to be just as intense.
It wasn’t that exactly.
The Red Raiders rolled to an uncontested 6-0 win two days later as Smith earned the shutout.
Melrose got two goals each from Fennell and Sullivan and one each from Crowley and Haggerty.
The Red Raiders had a 5-0 lead after one and cruised from there.
Fennell started the scoring just 33 seconds into the game assisted by Crowley and Haggerty. Crowley played it off glass in his own zone, Haggerty tracked it down in the O zone, put on the brakes and spun middle where he found Fennell who scored stick side.
The Melrose attack continued at a torrid pace just as the penalty kill stopped Wakefield’s first of four unsuccessful man advantages in this one. Sullivan made it 2-0 after Haggerty found Fennell in the neutral zone starting a two-on-one. Fennell sauced a pass to Sullivan who waited on his forehand and brought it around to his backhand. It was one of many perfectly executed two-on-ones for Melrose this year.
Crowley made it 3-0 on the power play after receiving a D to D pass from O’Keefe and firing home a shot from the point with Jamie Haggerty providing good traffic in front. McNeely joined O’Keefe with assists on the play.
The Red Raider train kept rolling as they made it 4-0 just 22 seconds later when Charlie Haggerty again found Fennell in the neutral zone springing another two-on-one, this time, Fennell waited for Sullivan to skate himself free before firing a pass that Sullivan one-timed in.
Fennell finished up the first half scoring, turning on the jets to outskate the Warrior defense with assists to Charlie Haggerty and Thomas Sullivan.
In the second, Melrose surrendered zero shots on a 5-on-3 that lasted over a minute thanks again to the work of Charlie Haggerty, Fennell and Pierce. Just as the 5-on-3 was ending, Haggerty blocked a Wakefield shot, O’Keefe skated onto it and played it back to a wide open Haggerty who scored to make it 6-0.
Melrose finished 6-0-3 in the Freedom, followed by Stoneham (6-1-1) and Wakefield (5-4-1).
The Red Raiders played Winchester (5-2-2) in the first round of the Middlesex League playoffs on Wednesday after press time.