The Reading Memorial High School hockey team (11-6-6, top seed) defeated its Middlesex League rivals from Belmont (13-5-5, fourth seed) twice during the regular season, but by close scores of 4-3 and 3-2. So, why wouldn’t the Division 1 North semifinal game be any different at Lowell’s Tsongas Center on Thursday night, March 5, and as it turned out it wasn’t, only this time Belmont had the upper hand, 3-2. The Marauders will now play St. John’s of Shrewsbury (12-8-5, 11th seed) Monday night, March 9, back at the Tsongas Center, starting at 7:30 p.m.
After a scoreless first period, the Marauders, who withstood the early Reading surge (the Rockets outshot them in the opening stanza, 11-4), finally broke through late in the second period on a power play goal by captain Matt Brody with 1:14 left. Captain Justin Rocha and Thomas Grace were credited with the assists.
But the Rockets came out flying in the third, and finally scored on a goal by Evan Pennucci assisted by Cam Lawhorne and Landyn Greatorex with 2:29 left in regulation.
However, Belmont, who lost in this very round two years ago to Waltham on a third period goal, made sure history wasn’t going to repeat itself. They scored the next two lamplighters to seemingly take command, once again.
Henry Stonehouse and Matty Rowan were credited with the tallies. It was Rowan’s first of the season, and it was a solo effort. Ben Fici setup Stonehouse’s marker.
But with 59.4 seconds left, Lawhorne trimmed the deficit to one from Greatorex, and Greatorex almost tied it with seconds remaining, but he was unable to lift the puck past goalie Nico Carere. That was Reading’s 30th shot on goal in the game, while Belmont had 29 on captain Dylan Emery.
After the disappointing ending two years ago and last year’s last place finish, Belmont coach Fred Allard expressed his feelings about this year’s run to the championship. "This is the most resilient bunch that I have ever been around my whole life," the fifth-year Belmont hockey mentor said immediately after the Reading thriller. "They really gutted it out, especially down the stretch.
"We competed in every game last year, but we just had a hard time scoring goals," Allard added. "But in the off-season, they worked their tails off, and came ready to play, when this season began, and we have been consistent throughout it. We are also very fortunate that we haven’t any injuries, knock on wood."
The Rockets, who have been in this position in the state tournament many times over the years, have the admiration of coaches like Allard. "We try and emulate Reading as a program, and we knew they’d keep on coming at us," he said.
The Rockets did just that, and as a result a total of four goals were scored – two by each side – in the final 2:29 of the game.
Brody, the author of Belmont’s first goal, had these thoughts after knocking off the top-seed. "It feels unreal, but to be honest I just want to play a few more days with my friends," he said. "I know [Reading] beat us twice during the regular season, and so this feels good to get the upset, and keep on rolling."