Arch-rivals Wilmington, Tewksbury All Knotted Up
WILMINGTON -- There was a Thanksgiving Day feel inside Ristuccia Memorial Arena on this cold February day.
The intensity for both teams was amped up for a school vacation week matinee as long-time Turkey Day gridiron foes Tewksbury and Wilmington hooked up in an icy-hot rivalry renewal.
It was a contest that featured big hits, big saves and big plays. And when the scoreboard clock struck 0:00 the Redmen and Wildcats had both earned a point while making a point as to their readiness for the start of the upcoming state hockey tournament.
Goals by Christian Robarge and Jared Venezia wiped out a two-goal deficit as Wilmington rallied to tie Tewksbury, 2-2, in the non-league regular season finale for both clubs Wednesday afternoon.
Aaron Scott and Will O’Keefe netted Tewksbury’s goals.
Wilmington (8-11-1), which qualified under the Sullivan Rule, and Tewksbury (13-4-3) will begin Division 2 North Sectional Tournament play next week. Tewksbury skates into tourney on an impressive 7-1-3 run, while Wilmington is 4-1-1 in its last six games.
“It was kind of like a tourney game,” said Tewksbury coach Derek Doherty. “It always is against Wilmington. We just wish we came out with the win though.”
Throughout much of the first two periods Tewksbury controlled the play and had a two-goal lead. The Redmen advantage would have been even greater were it not for the stellar play of Wilmington sophomore goalie Alex Fitzler, who made 32 saves, including a number of point-blank stops.
“I thought we played well,” said Doherty. “We made a couple of mistakes that hurt us. We had opportunities to score a lot more goals. Their goalie played phenomenal, in the second period especially. I’m happy with our effort. And I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys are going to do in the tournament.”
Wilmington didn’t generate much in the way of offense during the game. But the Wildcats buried a couple of scoring chances in the final minute of the second period and the opening minute of the third.
With 50 seconds remaining in the middle period, Wilmington cut Tewksbury’s lead in half as Robarge scored with assists from Conlin Duffy and Peter Kourkoutas. The Wildcats evened the score 11 seconds into the third as Venezia hit the back of the net with a shot from the left wing. And just like that, Tewksbury’s lead had disappeared.
“We’ve been playing good lately, which we need to do,” said Wilmington coach Steve Scanlon. “You want to go in the tournament playing your best. But I didn’t think today was a good example of that until the third period. We worked hard in the third. But in the first and second, we didn’t look very good.
“We didn’t do well adjusting to their speed. They have a good, quick team. But our goalie kept us in it. In the second period, I don’t think we left our zone more than a couple times. He made several ten-bell saves.”
Tewksbury took a 1-0 lead when Scott scored with 8:25 remaining in the opening period. Kyle Lombardo and Kyle Morris assisted on the goal.
The Redmen doubled their lead when O’Keefe tallied a power-play goal at 3:14 of the middle period with an assist from Michael Arsenault. O’Keefe, a sophomore forward, has potted eight goals over the past three games. For the season, O’Keefe has 21 goals and eight assists for 29 points.
“He’s a really good player,” said Doherty. “He has a knack for the net. And he’s been playing well.”
Wilmington received strong efforts on defense from Justin Crowley and Duffy. Zachary Kincaid played well up front for the Wildcats.
Tewksbury’s swarm-to-the-puck defense was led by Arsenault, Benjamin Bieren, Caden Connors and Robert Casey. Patrick Letourneau made 14 saves in goal for the Redmen.
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi