Saturday, June 13, 2015

Postgame Blog: Martens Shines, But T-Hawks Fall to Longmeadow

Algonquin junior Mike Martens (10) had a solid day on defense and at the faceoff-X, plus added a pair of goals against Longmeadow Friday night.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Ed. Note- Here is a quick reminder that this is simply my Postgame Blog, and not a full recap of the game. If you'd like a full recap, along with highlights, head over to BostonLax. Or, if you'd like a recap with extra details about Longmeadow's Max Stukalin, head over to ESPN Boston.

In his first game after being named an All American, Algonquin junior midfielder Mike Martens had a sterling performance against one of the state's best players, but it wasn't enough as the Tomahawks still fell to Longmeadow in the Division 2 Central/West final.

Martens began the day winning his first three face-offs against Longmeadow's star middie Max Stukalin. On the day, Martens would win 15 of 20 draws from the Lancer junior, but Algonquin couldn't do much with those possessions early.

Trailing 7-1 with just minutes to play in the first half, Martens took a pass from Paul Luongo and ripped it past Longmeadow goalie Matt Pierson. Martens then won the next face-off and scored again the next time down, the won another face-off to give Algonquin the chance to score again before the half.

Ultimately, the T-Hawks came away from that possession empty handed and went to the half down 7-3, then a pair of quick goals in the first two minutes of the second half by Stukalin put the game out of reach. Still, coach Rich Luongo was proud of the way his team fought to the end, and spoke glowingly about the performance of his do-it-all junior.

"That's why he was my No. 1 for All American this year, the kid (Martens) is a force," Luongo said. "I thought we played a little tight in the first quarter, we threw the ball away a bunch of times and they capitalized. But I thought our second half was pretty good, but you just can't play catch up against a good team like that."

A Midfield Battle

The most interesting matchup definitely came at the faceoff-X where Martens and Stukalin battled. Though Martens won 15 of 20 draws from Stukalin, Lancer coach Keith Campbell and Stukalin himself were happy with the results.

"I knew coming in what (Martens') face-off percentage was, 81-percent," Campbell said. "I'll have what it was (Friday), but it's nothing we didn't expect."

"Throughout practice we knew it was going to be a grind at the faceoff-X," Stukalin said. "We were practicing not winning the face-offs and just staying on his hands to prevent transition opportunities. We ended up minimizing them (Friday)."

While Stukalin would win the scoring battle 5 goals to 2, Martens' two scores came in big moments, and nearly pulled the Tomahawks back into the game before intermission. In the end, though, Algonquin just couldn't stop Longmeadow's powerful and versatile offense.

"We went down a few, and you started to see it slip away a little bit," Martens said. "So it was just like, we have to start shooting and taking risks, kind of, and just going to the cage."

A Special Group

Another thing that was evident from Tomahawk players and coaches after the game was just how special this team was. Coach Rich Luongo compared this group to his 2011 and 2012 teams that made the state finals, and said it may have been the hardest working group of seniors he ever coached.

Martens referred to this year's squad as a "family" multiple times, and the T-Hawks did accomplish quite a bit in 2015.

Algonquin scored a pair of 5-4 overtime wins against rival Shrewsbury and swept rival Westboro on the way to an outright Mid-Wach A title. The Tomahawks also claimed a Top-3 seed, and upset No. 2 Westfield en route to a district final appearance. On the year, Algonquin won an impressive 12 games against tournament teams, including a huge win over Eastern Mass power Hingham, and taking reigning Division 1 state champion Acton-Boxborough to the fourth quarter.

Whether this is the best Tomahawk team in recent memory is up for debate. I remember watching that 2012 squad and being blown away by how much better they were than everybody else in Central Mass. Those T-Hawks rolled through the regular season with only a single defeat (vs Hingham in OT), defeated St. John's three times, knocked off one of the best Grafton teams ever in the playoffs, and made the state finals.

While things have changed a bit since then (realignment has made it harder for Central and Western teams to make the state semis since they now have t o face Eastern Mass teams before they get there), this year's team wasn't quite as dominant, but did have its fair share of stars.

The T-Hawks boasted a strong senior class, led by poles Stu Bleck and Paul Nardone, along with middies Paul Luongo and Justin Stassi, and attackmen Alex Sabel and Matt Larsen. That group, along with star juniors Martens and goalie Colton King, plus budding star sophomore attackman Zach Skowronek made Algonquin a formidable force for anyone.

They didn't sweep CMass, or make it to the state finals but, as coach Luongo said, this was among the best teams in Algonquin history. They just seemed to have that one team they couldn't get past.

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