Saturday, April 23, 2016

Postgame Blog: Algonquin Hits a Wall Against Minnechaug

Junior attackman Zack Skowronek scored three goals for Algonquin, but the Tomahawks didn't have much else to cheer for Saturday against Minnechaug.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Algonquin came into Saturday's game against Western Mass power Minnechaug looking to put a cherry on a week that already saw it defeat Acton-Boxborough and Hopkinton, and seize the top seed in Division 2 Central/West.

Instead, it was the visiting Falcons who continued their hot start and finished a tremendously successful week that began with them defeating regional nemesis Longmeadow on Tuesday.

Algonquin (5-1) hit a wall, both literally and figuratively, against Minnechaug (7-0). Here are a few takeaways from a disappointing afternoon in Northborough.

The Literal Wall

First things first: Minnechaug is really, really good. Goalie Brett Jones stopped 17 shots against Longmeadow Tuesday, and he piled up another 16 against the T-Hawks Saturday. Several of those saves were absolute highway robbery, and it left many of the Algonquin players visibly shrugging their shoulders and thinking "what do I have to do?" when they got quality shots off.

You could hear several Algonquin players saying "that goalie is legit" and "that's the best goalie we're going to face all year" as they walked off the field after postgame hand shakes.

The Falcons also operated with ruthless efficiency when they had possession. Both Andrew Fidalgo and star Chase Beauchamp finished with four goals and an assist, while Sam Christman dished out four assists to go with a pair of goals. Minnechaug's offense was based on quick ball movement and crisp passing, and the Falcons got both Saturday.

"They're goalie, we peppered him, but he was a stone wall back there," Algonquin coach Matt Nofsinger said. "Then they had such great, quick ball movement on offense. Their rotation is solid and disciplined. It's a very tough offense to stop, that's for sure… It's a good measuring stick for us to see how much work we have to do."

So yeah, the T-Hawks ran into a buzzsaw against a very good team playing at a very high level.

The Mental Wall

But that can't hide the fact that Algonquin didn't play its best game Saturday. In fact, the T-Hawks probably played their worst complete game of the season. Other than junior attackman Zack Skowronek, who recorded a hat trick and kept bringing it on attack, and senior Mike Martens, who won 10 of their first 11 draws of the game, Algonquin was pretty sloppy all around.

The Tomahawks overthrew four balls out of bounds in the first half, and overran several open shooters, leading to good Falcon shots on the other side.

All those bad things snowballed, and despite the almost automatic possession Martens gave Algonquin throughout most of the game, the Tomahawks gave many of them away, while the Falcons made the most of their opportunities. It was a physically and mentally draining vacation week for Algonquin, who faced a pair of Eastern Mass powers, and went to overtime with Acton-Boxborough just a few days ago. Clearly, they ran out of gas somewhere along the way.

"I like to pull positives, but in a game where we were really man-handled like that, there's not much positive to pull," Nofsinger said. "We got solid Center-X play (from Martens) and some other things, but I'd rather look at what our weaknesses are and try to work on those. Today was great for that."

Colton King Leaves Game, But Should Be Ok

Making matters even worse was a mild hamstring strain suffered by star Algonquin goalie Colton King, who left the game late in the second quarter and didn't return. King felt good enough to re-enter the game, but Nofsinger wanted to play it safe, and held the Sacred Heart commit out for the rest of the afternoon.

While the loss of King didn't help, backup junior goalie Dan MacDonald actually played pretty well, making three nice saves in the second half, and not letting in anything soft. If anything, it was probably great experience for next year's expected starter.

And King's injury wasn't the reason Algonquin lost this game. Minnechaug was flat-out the better team Saturday, both because the Falcons brought their A-game, and because the Tomahawks didn't bring theirs. 

Looking Ahead

Don't be surprised to see these two meet down the road, as they'll likely be two of the Top-6 seeds in D2 Centra/West, along with Western Mass mainstays Longmeadow and Westfield, and fellow CMass powers Westboro and St. John's.

Minnechaug is in the lead for the top seed in the tournament… For now. The Falcons will face St. John's, Longmeadow again and Westfield twice before this is all over, and Algonquin will get back into Mid-Wach A play against Wachusett and Shrewsbury next week, before taking on Westfield next Saturday.

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