Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Postgame Blog: Worcester Bounces Back Against Nipmuc

Fortune favored the physical Tuesday, as Worcester's C.J. Gallagher (25) and Luke Hanlon (9) combined for 24 ground balls (12 each) against Nipmuc. WooLax dominated when the ball was on the ground, collecting 45 GBs on a slippery day when possession was hard to maintain.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Just four days after fading in the second half against Nipmuc, Worcester returned the favor against the Warriors with a 7-6 victory at home Tuesday.

With the game tied at four late in the third, Worcester (5-2, 3-1 Mid-Mass) drew a foul for a slash, then another foul for arguing with the officials. Nipmuc (4-4, 3-2 Mid-Mass) took advantage, as Patrick Donland put the Warriors up 5-4 (Note, both teams are nicknamed the Warriors, so I'm going to use "Warriors" to refer to Nipmuc, and "WooLax" to refer to Worcester. Thanks for bearing with me).

But Worcester dug itself out of that whole when James Goggins wrapped around nearly the entirety of his team's offensive zone to score an elongated wrap around goal while WooLax was still two men down. The teams went to the fourth knotted at five, and Worcester began to take control.

Midway through the fourth, Andrew Williamson bounced a goal in to give WooLax the lead, and Quinn Robert blasted another in a minute later to extend the lead to 7-5. WooLax then fought off a pair of penalties, aided by a key ground ball picked up by LSM Luke Hanlon in the Nipmuc offensive zone. Hanlon swooped in between two green jerseys and came away with the ball, clearing it and killing off a penalty.

Nipmuc's Mike Manning sniped one in from the outside to make it a one-goal game with a minute to play, but a save by Worcester goalie Griffin Moore 30 seconds later killed the Warriors' final chance, and put things on ice for WooLax.

Here are a few takeaways.

Dealing With Penalties

"(Penalties) are becoming a bit of a concern," Worcester coach Harry Jones said. "Technically, we're usually pretty good about avoiding those, but the last few games, not so much, so it's something we'll have to work on… But if I had to say our strengths as a team, they would be Close D and our penalty kill group. They really work hard a man down."

WooLax did do a great job on their penalty kill. Despite 10 different man-down minutes, Worcester only surrendered two goals in those situations, and actually scored one itself.

While there was some clear displeasure with the officials' calls on the Worcester sideline (and in the stands), WooLax did itself no favors, with a few high sticks, and some talking with the refs. Did a few 50-50 push calls on ground balls go against Worcester? Yep, but you can't let that snowball.

While WooLax can certainly handle playing a man down, I doubt their coach wants them to make a habit of it.

Gallagher's Big Day

Junior D-Pole C.J. Gallagher has been a busy man this year.

On top of his normal duties on defense, where he is thought of as one of the best in Central Mass, and his role as a ground ball vacuum cleaner, Gallagher has also gotten the chance to play some offense. The junior let a powerful shot rip in the second quarter to interrupt a mini-Nipmuc run, and coach Jones was far from surprised.

"He's got a great stick, in fact, he probably has the best stick on the team, and that's including attackmen," Jones said. "So we're going to give him the chance to play some offense, and he's got a big shot."

WooLax uses Gallagher as a true pole when he's on defense, and sends their usual LSM off whenever he moves up to play offense. You could call him sort of a hybrid Pole/LSM, but Gallagher is constantly matched up with the opponents' top offensive threat when he's on defense.

Now in only his third year playing the sport, Gallagher has proved to be a natural. He's started since the first year he picked up a stick as a freshman, and was named team captain last year as a sophomore. Now a second-year captain, Gallagher has kicked his game up another notch, and is willing to do anything to help WooLax win.

"We talked about me playing a little bit on offense this year, and we knew I'd have to keep the long stick to play defense," Gallagher said. "It's a lot of work, and coach asks a lot of me, but I like that. I want them to ask a lot of me and I want to have a lot on my shoulders."

Nipmuc's Balance

Say what you want about Worcester, Nipmuc proved it is no slouch as well Tuesday, and may have the most balanced offense I've seen this year. The Warriors got their six goals from five different scorers (Manning scored two), and prove to have a formidable attack and set of offensive middies.

Goalie Drew Cannistraro always made several big saves, and was solid starting the clear for the Warriors. The one thing really working against Nipmuc was the weather. It was a slippery day all around, and the Warriors delivered some pinpoint passes, and made some great dodges, but the ball somehow ended up falling behind on many occasions. There were a ton of unforced turnovers on both sides, which seemed to favor a Worcester team that lives on ground balls and physical play.

You can tell the potential is there for Nipmuc to absolutely light it up, but Tuesday wasn't the Warriors' day.

All-around, Nipmuc definitely looks like a team that deserves to be ranked in our Top-10, and I'm excited to see what these guys do the rest of the way.

Looking Ahead

This was a huge win for Worcester, and really a must-win if WooLax wants to remain relevant in the Mid-Mass title hunt. The win pushes Worcester into second place at 3-1 in the league, and splits the season series with Nipmuc, who is now 3-2 in league play.

Obviously, Worcester has yet to play either of its games against league-favorite Grafton, while Nipmuc fell to the Indians 10-5 in the first game between those two teams earlier this season. Both these teams are in great position to make the tournament, Worcester in D2 Central/West and Nipmuc in D3 Central/West, but each will really be tested in league play over the next few weeks.

Worcester will host a Tantasqua team that shared the league title last year on Friday, and hit the road next week to face upstart Hopedale Tuesday, then powerhouse Grafton on Thursday. If WooLax can somehow win all three of those games, they'll be in the driver's seat in Mid-Mass.

Nipmuc, though it doesn't control its own destiny with regards to the league title, has plenty to play for at home against Hopedale Thursday, then next Tuesday and Thursday bring home contests against Northbridge and Tantasqua, respectively.

These next two weeks will tell us a great deal about the top of Mid-Mass, and if anyone can take out a very impressive looking Grafton squad.

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