Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rockland Defeats Hopkinton to Earn Sectional Final Date with Hanover

By: Jake Levin (@JakeLevin09)

Buzzards Bay, Mass.—A border war between the Hanover Indians and Rockland Bulldogs is no longer brewing: it’s a reality.

After watching Hanover cruise to a 6-0 win over the Ashland Clockers in the first Division 3 South semifinal game at Gallo Arena on Friday, Rockland held up its part of the bargain by erasing deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 against the Hopkinton Hillers to survive and advance to the South final on Sunday with a 4-3 win.

“That was one heck of a hockey game,” Bulldogs head coach Mike Flaherty said after the game. 

“Up and down, fast. That Hopkinton team is one heck of a team. I thought they were faster, I thought they were deeper and it showed for stretches tonight. But our guys just don’t quit. They get their backs against the wall and they dig themselves out of holes – we put ourselves in holes, but somehow, we get out of them.”

The third-seeded Bulldogs (20-2-3, 9-1-0 South Shore League) had prior experience this postseason in erasing two-goal deficits – namely its first-round game against the Coyle & Cassidy Warriors. In that game, Coyle gradually built a 2-0 lead before Rockland stormed back to win in overtime.

No. 2 Hopkinton (19-3-1, 13-2-1 Tri-Valley League), on the other hand, knocked the Bulldogs down before they could even get up again with two goals in 12 seconds halfway through the first period. Sixteen seconds after DJ Sloan and Tommy Hamblet’s barrage for the Hillers, Joseph Yeadon broke free and faced Hopkinton goaltender Dylan O’Leary head on.

O’Leary gambled, moving up the slot to cut off Yeadon’s angle, to no avail. Yeadon stayed on the puck without running into O’Leary, seeing it through across the goal line to get the Bulldogs on the board. Just 1:14 later, Mike Flaherty Jr. reset the game with his team-leading 25th goal of the season to knot things at 2-apiece.

Back on top the Hillers went at 2:25 of the second period on a Matt Lindquist offering through the 5-hole of Harry O’Brien, the Bulldogs once again forced to play catch-up. Zach Callahan had no qualms with that, issuing the equalizer at 8:58 of the second.

Less than three minutes later, Yeadon was whistled for boarding on Hopkinton’s Owen Delaney. He was issued a five-minute major that would wrap around into the third period, regardless of how many times the Hillers could score. The Bulldogs couldn’t find a way out of this jam, could they?

Early returns were less than promising, so Flaherty took his timeout.

It’s not the first time this tournament he’s had to call a timeout and an unconventional time; Flaherty decided to take one with nine minutes left in regulation against Coyle, seeing immediate results with a Dan McHugh goal 12 seconds later.

“I didn’t like the beginning of our penalty kill,” Flaherty said. “They like to look to the backdoor guy a lot, and we weren’t covering it. I tell my defensemen ‘have heels to the net’ so they can see everything. We didn’t have heels to the net; we were just chasing pucks. They just missed to the back door. I hated to take my timeout at that point, but I felt a five-minute major in a 3-3 game we had to carry momentum. We had to stem the tide here. We stemmed it.”

Flaherty’s Midas touch with stopping the clock continued, as not only did Rockland weather the storm, it took its first lead of the night on a Joe Campanile shorthanded breakaway at 14:05 of the second.

“I was just thinking ‘get a shot on net,’ try to get it in the zone and kill the penalty clock,” Campanile said after the game. “I had no clue it was going to go in the net. I was honestly going to go in and shoot it low, but I thought maybe I can get it in this time. I know [Dylan O’Leary] was cheating low the whole game, so I thought I could go high on him.”

The third (Rockland) and fourth (Hopkinton) highest ranked offenses in Division 3, respectively, were held at bay for the entirety of the final 15 minutes, ensuring the Bulldogs a trip to the Division 3 South final for the second season in a row.

“This might be the greatest Rockland team I’ve ever had,” said Flaherty, who’s been head coach of the Bulldogs since the 2008-09 season. “And I’ve never been more proud of a team, ever. Because they just battle. They have a will to win and they don’t stop.”

Hanover and Rockland’s ties are deep, as the teams play once in the regular season each year. The Indians won this year’s meeting, way back on Dec. 13 at Hobomock Arena, 2-1. It was revenge of sorts from last year’s tournament, when the Bulldogs outlasted them 1-0 in a shootout in the Division 3 South quarterfinals.

While this is Rockland’s second trip to the South final in as many seasons, Hanover will be playing in the game for the fourth time in the last five seasons – its only miss thanks to the Bulldogs. The Indians won the Division 3 state title in 2016 and still possess all kinds of talent from that roster, but Flaherty is hopeful Rockland can do what no team has done all season: beat Hanover, which is sitting pretty at 22-0-1.

“I think so, we played them a long time ago, second game of the year,” Flaherty said when asked if his team is ready for the challenge. “It was a great hockey game. We have a pretty good rivalry with them. I’m good friends with their coaches, so it’s a friendly rivalry. There’s a mutual respect on both sides; I don’t think either side wants to play the other one, in all honesty. But it is what it is, we’ll obviously take it and hope we come out on top.”

Puck drop is at 12:45 p.m. on Sunday back at Gallo.

No comments :