It’s tournament time!

The Watertown High boys’ hockey team opens Tuesday night in Woburn; girls’ hockey and both WHS basketball teams play this week

Amin Touri, Raider Times staff

     Though the Raiders could not successfully defend their Middlesex League title, a win over Wakefield and a tie with a Woburn team ranked No. 10 in the state allowed the Watertown High hockey team to finish its season 10-3-7, marching into the playoffs with an impressive record out of a Middlesex League that is one of the toughest in all of Massachusetts.

     The Raiders’ tournament run starts Tuesday, Feb. 24, with a Division 3 North game against Dracut. The Raiders, seeded seventh, will play the 10th-seeded Middies (9-8-2) at Woburn at 8 p.m. The winner of the game will advance to play second-seeded Northeast Regional (16-4-0) on Friday at a site and time to be determined.

    Tyler Gardiner’s rebound goal and another stellar performance from Anthony Busconi (26 saves) carried the Raiders to a big 1-1 tie against Woburn, who finished on top of the Middlesex League and qualified for the prestigious Super 8 tournament. The Tanners, champions of Middlesex’s Liberty Division, will play Burlington, champions of the Freedom Division, on Tuesday, Feb. 24, in a Super 8 play-in game.

     Against Watertown, the Tanners dominated the first 15 minutes, but the Raiders held them at bay before coming back fighting in a back-and-forth second period. Woburn would get on the board first, however, as junior Timmy Doherty opened the scoring with a power-play goal with just five seconds remaining in the period to put the visitors up, 1-0.

It didn’t take long for the Raiders to respond. The Tanner lead lasted less than 90 seconds into the third period, when Gardiner jumped on a rebound and buried the equalizing goal.

Busconi continued his usual clutch play in the last few minutes, keeping the Raiders hopes of an upset alive in the closing stages. Woburn appeared to have the heartbreaking game-winner with 16 seconds left, but Kyle Flaherty’s apparent goal was immediately waved off by the official, who ruled that the net had come off of its moorings and the play was whistled dead.

     The Raiders escaped with a big point against their toughest opponents of the year.

Watertown’s tilt against Wakefield proved to be less suspenseful as the Raiders were in full control throughout.

Despite going down a goal just 55 seconds on Wakefield’s very first shot of the game, the Raiders outshot the Warriors, 15-7, in the opening period, and the Raiders took advantage of a late power play, as senior Austin Farry tied things up with a minute left in the first period.

Junior Barry Dunn picked up his first goal of the season midway through the second frame, pulling the Raiders in front, and Gardiner’s empty-netter in the final seconds sealed a 3-1 Raider victory.

Busconi was again stellar in the win, making 19 saves in his final home game in a Raider uniform.

The win in the finale put the Raiders at 10-3-7, and, despite a lack of a Middlesex League championship under their belts, this Raider team has the potential to make a deep playoff run.

It took some clutch goaltending and two late goals from junior Michael Giordano and senior Jeff Comeau, but Watertown managed to claw its way back from a 2-0 hole to split a 2-2 tie with a very strong Burlington team, continuing their deceptively impressive season at 7-2-4.

On Wednesday, Feb. 4, it was Senior Night at Watertown’s John A. Ryan Arena, and Busconi had himself another fine night in net, stopping 40 of the 42 shots he faced, and power-play goals from Giordano and Comeau helped the Raiders to a 2-2 tie against Burlington.

The Raiders were coming off a 5-1 win over Wakefield on Jan. 31, as juniors Tyler Poulin, Gardiner, and  Giordano, along with seniors Comeau and Brendan Berkeley, all picked up goals in a rout of the Warriors.

Burlington sophomore Robby McLean put the visitors on the board first in the opening period, and despite multiple scoring chances, the Raiders went into the second period down 1-0, thanks to some great goaltending from Burlington’s Nick Howard (18 saves on 20 shots).

Sophomore Patrick O’Halloran doubled the Red Devil advantage in the second period, but the Raiders quickly responded, as  Giordano cut the lead in half on the power play.

Burlington tried to press their advantage despite being a man down on the penalty kill, and were immediately exposed when Poulin stole the puck in his own defensive zone. Poulin gave the puck to Gardiner, who made a great play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, finding Giordano, wide open in front to slide the puck between Howard’s legs to pull Watertown back into the game.

Gardiner played provider once again on the tying goal, picking up the assist on Comeau’s equalizer. A perfectly placed shot from Comeau, past Howard, off the post and in, leveled things at 2 with 10 minutes remaining in the third period.

Busconi was again a brick wall for the Raiders in the closing stages, as the Red Devils spent the last two minutes of the game on the power play, but could not find the winner, as Busconi racked up 19 saves in the final period of play.

It was nearly a storybook finish for the Raiders, when Gardiner, one of the known as one of the fastest skaters in the league, jumped on a loose puck and raced toward the net in on a breakaway, only to have his legs cut out from under him by a trailing defender. The Watertown junior was left with a penalty shot to win the game with 16 seconds left.

Gardiner, already with two assists on the night, nearly played the part of the hero, but, despite leaving Howard out to dry with an excellent move, he could only watch his shot hit the post, and both teams skated off with 1 point in the tie, still a great result for the Raiders.

–Feb. 24, 2015–