Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley Rallies, Tops Hopedale in OT
FITCHBURG -- When a team’s back is against the wall, you find out a lot about the character of its players and the squad’s resolve.
After sixth-seeded Hopedale shocked the home fans by jumping out to a 3-0 lead through the first 15 minutes of action Wednesday night, the third-seeded Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley boys’ hockey team found itself in a position it has been in before.
And, how did the Blue Knights respond?
Lunenburg came storming back and completed the dramatic comeback with 4:07 left in overtime when Declan Fitzpatrick sent a wrist shot over the glove of Hopedale goalie Matt Shaver to send the Blue Knight faithful into a frenzy as the hosts earned a 5-4 victory over the Blue Raiders in a Central Mass. Division 3A quarterfinal matchup at the Wallace Civic Center.
“We just got the puck deep and had a good forecheck,” Fitzpatrick said. “It started with the forwards. I was just open on the backside and threw it high on the far side and hoped for the best. We are a family, so we just believe in each other and continue to battle back.”
With the win, Lunenburg ran its record to 14-6-1 and will next play either Grafton or Assabet Valley in the semifinals on March 5. Hopedale finished the season at 9-11-1.
“We were flat the first period and they were doing what we were supposed to be doing, which was taking the puck to the net and not trying to be too fancy,” said Lunenburg head coach Eric Short. “The message in the locker room was to just keep chipping away. The kids in the locker room just kept chipping away and got it to a point where we could win the game. The second and third periods are Lunenburg hockey. If we continue to play like that, then we will have a chance to win a championship.”
The Blue Knights came storming out to start the second period after getting shell-shocked in the opening 15 minutes. Connor Viviano netted Lunenburg’s first goal just 18 seconds into the middle frame. With 6:24 left in the period, Viviano tipped in a shot for a power-play goal to cut the Hopedale lead to just one, 3-2.
Following a goal by Hopedale’s P.J. Gray, Lunenburg showed its grit as the Blue Knights scored the next two goals to set up the Fitzpatrick heroics. Nathan Handy and Matthew Albert scored the third and fourth goals, respectively, for the hosts.
“They did everything to a T tonight,” Short said. “We adjusted our forecheck, we were more aggressive, the defense pinched, and it all worked. We chipped away at the lead and found a way to get it to overtime.”