Indians Not Ready to Stop Playing
STONEHAM -- Two years ago, the Billerica High boys hockey team only won one game.
Billerica 2, Melrose 1
After Sunday night’s upset victory over Melrose, the Indians are now one win away from a sectional final appearance.
Led by an incredible performance by junior goalie Connor Feeney, who turned away 29 shots, the No. 7 seed Billerica edged No. 2 seed Melrose, 2-1, in a Division 1 North quarterfinal game before a large crowd at Stoneham Arena.
“It’s the same nucleus of guys,” said Billerics head coach Jim Egan, who has watched his program go from 1-17-3 to 8-9-4 and now 12-6-4. “We have nine guys in that room who were sophomores two years ago. There’s another four or five who were freshmen two years ago and now they are juniors and seniors. They have been the nucleus of the team and they have completely turned (the program) around. They never gave up, they kept working and it’s a testament that hard work does pay off. They stuck together and have been committed to one another.”
The Indians will now play the winner of No. 3 Winchester/No. 11 Bishop Fenwick on Thursday at the Tsongas Center, with the time yet to be announced. This is the furthest Billerica has gone since losing in the sectional semfinal to Wakefield, 4-3, in a shootout in 2011.
The unorthodox and very aggressive Feeney was sensational all night, including stopping a combined 24 shots in the first two periods.
“He’s a reaction goalie because he’s such a competitor,” said Egan. “He’ll just react to wherever he thinks he’s going to save the puck. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very technically sound goalie. He has great vision, he’s always in position, but he can react and make some incredible saves like he did tonight. He was the difference, no doubt. He made some highlight reel saves.”
Four of Feeney’s saves in the second period came as Melrose had a 5-on-3 advantage for a minute.
“It starts with the LaMarca brothers (Anthony and Joe),” said Egan. “They are our penalty killers. Killing that 5-on-3, then killing the 5-on-4, helped give us a little bit of a momentum shift again. We went for six or seven minutes that period being outplayed because we were in the box.”
Billerica scored a power-play goal late in the first period as Alex Coulot sent a pass to the left point and Matt Livingston unloaded a shot that just slid into the inside left post.
Coulot also set up the eventual game-winning goal. With under six minutes left in the second period, Billerica was working the puck around the Melrose end. Coulot fought to get control of the puck and slipped a pass to Matt Covino, who was in tight, to the left of goalie Mark Dewling. Covino spun completely around and put a strong backhander to the far right corner.
“That goal brought me back to my street hockey days,” said Egan with a laugh. “We call him ‘Silky Smooth Covino’ because he has those moves, especially in tight. He’s a tall guy and he can stickhandle in a phonebooth. Both goals were set up by Alex and you are watching an emerging hockey player. He’s just a freshman and now that he has his legs underneath him, his first two or three strides are incredible. He’s a very smooth player, a gifted player with great hands and a great tool set. He’s become a big part of our offense right now.”
Melrose scored a power-play goal just 1:50 into the third period, but couldn’t get another one, despite going on the power play and pulling Dewling for the extra skater with 1:09 left.