West Side Arena, Manchester, NH.
Saturday, February 18, 2017.
Goffstown at Merrimack, 500pm.
Merrimack and Goffstown are not too fond of one another. At least the high school hockey teams from these two towns tend to show much disdain toward each other. For the third straight meeting between these two teams, Goffstown was in a position of having to pull their goaltender. And for the third straight time, they allowed an empty net goal to Merrimack. Goffstown has lost 4 straight games to the Tomahawks since the 2013-14 season. The Grizzlies have been outscored 16-7 in those 4 losses. The schools are only about 11 miles apart, and the rinks they play in, are less than a mile from one another. But on the ice, these two teams are from different worlds. The Tomahawks are, well they are just like their nickname, sharp, tough, dangerous, and not terribly accurate. They play their style of hockey better than most teams do. Like it or not, they’re effective. They are not nearly as talented as they have been in recent years, but if you play their game, you may be worse for the wear.
Saturday night, Merrimack recognized their 6 senior players in an inaudible pregame ceremony of sorts. Then the Merrimack seniors came out and accounted for all 4 goals and 2 assists that they put on the board. Greg Amato stopped nearly everything in net, and Merrimack earned a 4-1 victory over a team that resided some seven spots ahead of them in the standings.
Amato was HUGE! He made 39 saves on 40 shots, none of which included the following shots. A shot from the corner that Tyler Riendeau put between Amato’s pads from a terrible angle that still disappeared under the pads, and crossed the goal line all before caroming off of the inside of the left pad and through the backside of the crease. Ruled no goal.
Then there was the shot that Sebastian Beal shot from behind the goal line, trying to bank the puck off of Amato, and in. Except, Amato moved, and the Tomahawk defenseman who was surprised to see the puck, watched as the puck deflected off of his left skate and into the empty net. He quickly swiped the puck out of the net, and away. Ruled no goal. Then after a long possession, and a flurry of shots, the Grizzlies thought they had another goal when Greg Amato and a defenseman were laying in the net when the whistle sounded. After everyone shifted and jostled out of the net, the puck was produced. It looked like Amato made a tremendous glove save, but did so with his glove behind goal line, in the net, before they dislodged the net. Ruled no goal.
Now having any one, or more, of these being called goals, then maybe future results change. Maybe not. Regardless, early in the first period, a little thought started to grow in the back of my mind. The thought was that of the Concord-Salem game in Division I on Friday night. Concord was stymied by Salem, and goaltender Paddy Capsilas, who made 54 saves on the night. Goffstown carried the play in the opening period but had a 1-0 deficit to show for it. Merrimack scored when Dylan Hyers had his shot from the left point blocked directly back to him. Hyers then tried to flip the puck deep into the zone, but the puck went to right to
John Tiano of Merrimack. Tiano made a quick pass to Owen O’Brien, and the race was on. Tiano and O’Brien raced up ice on a 2-on-1 against Colin Burke who rotated back on defense when Hyers was caught up ice without the puck. Tiano to O’Brien, a nice pass at full speed, and O’Brien buried it. 1-0 Tomahawks, just 68 seconds into the game. Goffstown would dominate play in the sense of offensive zone possession and shots on goal. At 14:30 of the period, O’Brien would make a nice inside-out move against Dylan Hyers and walk in for a clean shot against Kyle LaSella. LaSella was beat cleanly, but the shot rang loudly off of the post and kicked wide. After a full period, Goffstown led the shots battle 11-4, yet trailed 1-0.
The second period, which has been a stumbling block to Goffstown all season, was an odd period to say the least. Goffstown would draw 5 penalties on Merrimack in the period, by absolutely owning the puck for almost the entire period. The Grizzlies outshot Merrimack 15-3 in the period and still trailed 2-1 after two. Merrimack got their first two shots on goal, 9 and a half minutes into the period. Owen O’Brien made a pass to Owen Hastings who shot on goal from an awful angle just above the goal line on the left-wing side. LaSella made the save, hugging the post in doing so. Somehow though, the puck landed in a spot where Hastings could tap the puck into the net between the post and LaSella’s right skate. It was 2-0 Merrimack at 9:21 of the second. Long before this goal, the Grizzlies had just started killing a penalty on Brett Lassonde when Nick Nault picked off a pass and skated up ice.
Nault beat everyone up the ice with good skating and nifty moves to get a clean shot at Amato. Nault’s shot was stopped by Amato, but the rebound kicked out to Sebastian Beal who had hustled up ice just behind Nault. Beal lifted a shot that got off of the ice, but not enough to clear Amato’s left pad. Two Grade A chances turned aside at 3:52 of the second period. Goffstown got their only goal of the night on the power play at 14:47 of the period. Tyler Riendeau scored the goal set up by Griffin Cook and Nick Nault.
The third period was more of the same, only with much worse attitudes. There were seven penalties called in the final period and probably a dozen more that weren’t. Neither team was innocent. Merrimack got a whopping four shots on goal in the period, including the empty netter with 34 seconds left. One of the other shots they got on net was a goal scored by Owen O’Brien when he threw a backhand from a tough angle and found the twine behind LaSella. Kyle had come up with a huge save earlier though, when Max Lajeunesse turned the puck over out by the blue line and Jeff Gerhard walked in alone. LaSella made a ridiculous stick save which left Gerhard looking up at the ceiling wondering how he hadn’t scored. Goffstown would end up with 14 shots in the period, and 40 for the game. Goffstown somehow held Merrimack to just 11 shots in the game. Their final shot coming when Owen Hastings lofted a high arching shot, like he was trying to drop a punt inside the 10, from his side of center ice. The puck landed and slid into the wide open net. Final score in favor of Merrimack, 4-1.
There were several, near melees on the ice in the second and third period’s. It could have been worse. No, actually, it was worse. Sometimes I wonder if the officials called everything, which would require work on their part, would some of this playground, no harm no foul, but I am still going to punch you in the head, stuff, would go away. If everything was called last night, there would likely have been some of the senior mom’s needed to suit up and finish the game. Goffstown would’ve killed some major penalties, and likely an ejection or two.
Listen, I am biased towards Goffstown. I have been following Goffstown sports and writing about them for almost 20 years. I try very hard to be objective, and call it like I see it, regardless of who did what. A few things I have noticed, as it relates to hockey. There are some coaches and programs that just play a different brand of something that resembles hockey. Goffstown has a very good team, especially when they can play gentlemen’s hockey. Then, they get completely out of their game when they try to be the big-hitters and chase hits around the ice. The Nashua South’s, the Oyster River’s, the Dover’s, and certainly the Tomahawks get them out of their comfort zone. The Grizzlies can hit. They can skate. They can score. They play their hearts out, giving maximum effort. Perhaps their approach needs to be updated, if not streamlined. Simple answer: Do what they do better than they do it now. Demand perfection. Raise the standard.
On the other side of the coin, there is a modus operandi that seems to drive the Grizzlies crazy. And the best way I can describe it would be to use a term that was really perfected by the first Americans in the Revolutionary War. The term is guerrilla warfare. For this example I will define it as such: a form of irregular hockey in which a small group of competitors use less than ordinary tactics including any back alley type activity that would seem invisible to officials, heavy stick work, petty maneuvers, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility to battle a structured but less-disciplined traditional hockey club. Last night, the Grizzlies outplayed Merrimack in a traditional hockey sense by at least a 4-1 margin, yet Goffstown had no chance to win that game.
No chance when playing into the hands of an opponent that thrives on just that. Instead, in a domination of play at 364% (40-11) over the opponent, the Grizzlies got only 25% (1-4) of the desired result. That’s my own math, and I know many factors go into this type of thing, but this incident isn’t isolated. At Nashua South, 141% (31-22) over the opponent, got only 83% (5-6) of the desired result. At Oyster River, 258% (31-12) over the opponent, got only 0% (0-2) of the desired result. Again, my math, but I hope the point is made. Even in the wins against Kingswood and Oyster River (at home), the result was nowhere near the level of domination. I point this out as a closer look into numbers, because frankly, even after 24+ hours, I don’t have a lot of nice words to say about last night’s game.
So, after this week’s action, the playoff picture is rounding out.
1) Keene is 15-0 after beating Bow again, 5-3. 2) Bow is 14-2-1, only losing to Keene, and a tie with Windham. 3) Windham is 11-4-1, with Alvirne and Goffstown left. 4) Goffstown is 10-6, and needs one more win to maintain 4th place. 5) Dover is 9-6-1, plays Winnacunnet and Lebanon, and could finish 11-6-1. 6) Oyster River is 7-6-1, finishes against 4 teams with worse records. 7) Portsmouth is 8-7, plays OR, St. Thomas, and Bow. 8) St. Thomas is 8-7, plays Portsmouth, Winnacunnet, and Lebanon. 9) Spaulding is 8-8, only has Keene showing on their schedule. 10) Merrimack is 6-8-1, showing only Belmont left on their schedule.
With two games to play, Goffstown could jump into third with a pair of wins, but Windham would have to lose to Alvirne also. Dover could win both games and leapfrog GHS. Oyster River could run the table and finish ahead of the Grizzlies, even if Goffstown can split the last two games. If you dare think the unthinkable, Goffstown could drop as low as 8th with a pair of losses. We will just have to watch and see.
Goffstown (10-6) @ Merrimack (6-8-1)
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors, mostly mine, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the schools, coaches, players, or characters listed in any of these blog posts. Or, maybe they do, but you would have to ask them directly. Either way, “It’s a great day for hockey” ~ the late “Badger” Bob Johnson.