JUSTIN HARDING (31) celebrates with his teammates after coming up with 35 saves during Wakefield’s 3-1 win over Wilmington on Wednesday night at Ristuccia Arena. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

Published in the January 11, 2019 edition.


WILMINGTON — Coming off their first win of the season on Jan. 2 against Watertown, the WMHS boys’ hockey team looked to keep things rolling on Wednesday night when they traveled to the Ristuccia Arena to play a 4-3 Wilmington team.

There’s two ways to stay warm at the frozen ‘Stooch: you either grab a hot chocolate or hope one of the goalies gets hot. Luckily for Wakefield fans, senior netminder Justin Harding was a space heater against the ‘Cats coming up with 35 saves, including some big stops in a hectic third as he shut out the home team when they desperately needed one more.

It was the best game of the season so far for Harding, and one of the best his head coach Jason Lawrence has seen him play yet.

“That was a game we’ve been waiting for him to have; we knew he had it in him and he showed it tonight,” said Lawrence. “He proved he’s one of the top goalies in the league we he plays that way, so we’re very happy with how he played tonight.”

Wakefield skated hard from the start and their execution got better as the opening period went along. Harding set the tone when the Warriors had a hard time getting the puck out of their zone, coming up with a big stop on a 2-on-1 then recovering on a lightning-fast rebound with a strong push from left to right and a pad save.

The Warriors were competing but not winning many of the board battles; all they needed was a little confidence boost, which was provided by captain Thomas Harrington.

“Harry” picked off a pass at the Wilmington blue line and ignited a great sequence of offensive zone possession as he circled around the net, getting his linemates Cam Souza and Tim Lucey involved. Wakefield almost put one home, forcing Wilmington goalie Anthony Cuozzo to cover up. Lawrence elected to keep his first line on the ice and the Warriors struck on the ensuing faceoff, as Souza finished in close with assists going to Tim Lucey and Harrington with just under five minutes to play.

That boost seemed to get the skates moving a little faster for Wakefield who drew a power play with 4:01 left.

Once again, the play out of the faceoff was perfectly executed as Michael Locke won the draw and Brogan Chambers set up Evan Simoneau at the point. The freshman picked his spot and let loose a wicked wrister that got through some traffic in front and found the back of the net for a 2-0 lead. It was the first career goal for Simoneau.

With that, Wakefield took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, where the Warrior coaching staff made sure to reiterate the reality of the next 30 minutes.

“We talked in-between the first and the second that it was going to be a dogfight of a game and to stay within the system and they did that,” said Lawrence. “We had a lot of guys buy in and do the right things tonight. They kept playing for 45 minutes and it showed.”

Wakefield’s penalty killers, including Harrington, Chambers, Connor Santos and captain Mike Lucey got the job done on a Wilmington man advantage around the nine-minute mark, but the Wildcats buried their chance with 7:28 left to make it 2-1.

Wilmington picked up another power play with 5:10 left. It looked like a steep slope for Wakefield’s tired legs, but again, the PK, anchored by multiple strong stops from Harding, was up to the task. Captains Harrington and Lucey set a great example by putting their bodies on the line and Harding officially killed the penalty by covering up a puck that just got behind him on a wild sequence, getting Wakefield into the final intermission with a 2-1 lead.

The third started the same way the second ended, with the Wildcats peppering the net on five shots in the first two minutes. The Warriors were called on another penalty with 12:18 left but a confident penalty kill did the job yet again. Harrington and fellow senior Dan Guarino did most of the heavy lifting, disrupting Wilmington’s zone entries and Tim Lucey had a nice diving clear to end it.

Two of Harding’s saves of the night occurred on a Wilmington odd-man rush. Harding made an acrobatic stop with a worn out right pad and then seconds later bailed out a sloppy turnover. That happened with 10 minutes left, which with how hungry the Wildcats were, felt like forever.

A big hit from junior defenseman Chris Coombs got the Wakefield fans going and provided a boost for the Warriors who went on a power play with 8:34 left. That eventually turned into a 4-on-4 and although Wakefield didn’t get many chances, it disrupted the Wildcat attack and took some valuable time off the board.

Santos had a great period in the defensive zone and came up with a big shot block.

It was a mad dash to finish line with Harding staying laser-focused through the chaos.

Wilmington took a timeout with 1:41 left, but with just 25 seconds remaining, Cal Tryder finished it with an empty net goal and the Warriors got a hard-earned two points.

Wakefield (2-4-1) will look to keep it going against an undefeated Melrose team (7-0-2) on Saturday, 8 p.m. at the Stoneham Ice Arena.

“We’re going to try to keep the momentum,” said Lawrence. “Just from a mindset standpoint, putting two wins together like that and knowing that we can compete in this league with these big teams is something that we’re real happy with but we gotta keep going.”