| The Patriot Ledger
RANDOLPH — Milton High coach Chris Watson called it “pandemic hockey” — one of those days when you can expect the unexpected.
A prime example: the final goal in Wednesday’s 3-3 Bay State Conference tie at Zapustas Arena.
Watson’s Wildcats fell behind 3-1 but rallied to knot it up when senior defenseman Luke Calcagno’s point shot took a long and winding road into the net with only 3:37 left on the clock.
“It went off the glass (behind the net), hit the crossbar and hit the goalie in the back and went in,” Braintree coach David Fasano reported. “Who knows? Weird bounce.”
“Complete luck. I’ll take luck,” Calcagno said with a laugh. “They don’t ask how, they just ask how many.”
Said Watson: “For once the funny bounces worked for us at this rink. Usually they work for Braintree.”
For Braintree it was a frustrating punctuation mark on a frustrating 45 minutes. The Wamps (2-0-1) also had two goals disallowed, both by sophomore left wing Charlie DiMartino, who scored twice.
DiMartino’s first waved-off goal would have put Braintree up 3-0 with 10:26 left in the first half, and his second would have made it 4-2 with 9:27 remaining in the second half.
“It is what it is,” Fasano said. “The ref said he lost sight of the puck so he blew the whistle. Do I think they went in? Yeah. But it’s over now.”
“We caught some lucky breaks,” Watson acknowledged.
Oh, well. Both teams have been dealing with a lot of stuff this winter.
This was only Milton’s second game, and first since Jan. 9, when COVID-19 quarantines meant the Wildcats had to field a mostly JV squad for a 3-0 loss to Walpole. Meanwhile, Braintree opened the season with a pair of blowout wins over Newton North (8-0 and 5-0) but then sat idle for 10 days.
“That’s the part of this whole COVID situation that stinks — we played two games and then we hadn’t played in two weeks,” Fasano said. “But we’re not the only ones in this predicament. We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves.”
Fasano liked what he saw from his team early as sophomore center Nolan Leonard and DiMartino staked the Wamps to a 2-0 lead.
“We were really buzzing,” Fasano said. “We were running four lines and in the first 15 minutes of the game we were up 2-0 and things were looking pretty good. Then we kind of took our foot off the gas (pedal) a little bit. We got a little lazy in the defensive zone. I think everyone had a shift they would like to have back now. But you gotta learn from it and move on.”
Leonard and DiMartino are part of a promising crop of sophomore forwards that Braintree will rely heavily on this winter. Fasano called Leonard “one of the top sophomores in the state,” and said of DiMartino: “He gets the puck quick; he hunts down hockey pucks.”
On the back end, the Wamps graduated two Patriot Ledger All-Scholastic defensemen in Kyle Roche (the Herget Division MVP last season) and Johnny Harrington off last season’s 11-7-3 team. Fasano hopes a solid group of juniors can team with the senior No. 1 pairing of Billy Derrane and Brendan Keegan to stabilize the blueline in front of senior goalies Ben Sullivan (19 saves against Milton) and Dylan Anderson.
“The juniors are getting their feet wet,” Fasano said. “They didn’t play a lot last year. It’s a learning experience. At times they make a mistake here or there. But I think overall they’re going to be pretty good. They can all skate pretty good and shoot the puck. It’s a matter of getting used to the speed and the flow of the game right now.”
Milton (0-1-1) also is focusing on its defensemen — six of the top eight are seniors, led by Calcagno, Colin Hoey and Ronan Robinson. Contrast that to the forwards, where sophomore Jimmy Fallon is the leading returning goal-scorer.
“Until we find our groove offensively, we’re hoping that they’ll keep us in games and take care of that end,” Watson said. “Hopefully they don’t get too anxious to join the rush. We want them to be a stabilizing force in the defensive end and allow our younger, more inexperienced forwards to start getting their feet wet.”
Milton qualified for the playoffs last winter but finished 7-11-4 and missed the postseason in three of the previous four years. Clawing back to snatch a point off Braintree is nice way to get some early traction in this disjointed campaign.
“It was huge,” Calcagno said. “Braintree has always been a rival of ours, and usually they get the upper hand. We were looking for a win, but coming back, it’s a great feeling not losing to them again.”
Junior goalie Ryan Dexter made 33 saves for Milton, and Eoin Flaherty and Owen Radley had the other Wildcats goals.
“I’m glad the guys showed the effort and fought back,” said Watson, whose team hosts Braintree in the rematch on Saturday at Ulin Rink. “We’ll take anything (positive) to build on.”