RAIDERS ARE STATE CHAMPS!!!

Anthony Busconi stops 38 shots, Tyler Gardiner scores twice at TD Garden as Watertown High beats Agawam for school's first Division 3 title

Amin Touri, Raider Times staff

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As Tyler Poulin prepared to take a defensive-zone faceoff, Anthony Busconi got in position for the thousandth time this season, knowing what was on the line. When the horn sounded seconds later, Busconi dove across the ice, finding himself on the bottom of a pig pile with the knowledge that his childhood dream had been fulfilled.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Busconi. “I’ve had a dream since I was 10 years old that I wanted to win a high school state championship in the Garden, and we finally got it. It’s unbelievable to play your last game of your high school hockey career in the Garden, and ending it with a win, it’s unbelievable.”

While the Watertown High fan section prepares to capture the historic moment, Agawam tries to get off a last-second shot on goaltender Anthony Busconi in the Raiders' 2-1 victory at TD Garden on Sunday, March 15, 2015. The win brought Watertown High its first MIAA Division 3 state title.

Raider Times photo / Maura Gallagher
While the Watertown High fan section prepares to capture the historic moment, Agawam tries to get off a last-second shot on goaltender Anthony Busconi in the Raiders’ 2-1 victory at TD Garden on Sunday, March 15, 2015. The win brought Watertown High its first MIAA Division 3 state title.

It was only fitting that Busconi would save one of his best games for his last one in a Raiders sweater. The sensational senior goaltender pieced together a dazzling 38-save performance to lead Watertown High to its first state hockey title, taking down Agawam, 2-1, at TD Garden on Sunday, March 15, for the MIAA Division 3 championship.

“It’s just amazing,” says senior captain Austin Farry. “I’ve been playing with all of these guys since I was 4 years old, and we’ve all stuck together. The bulk of the team stuck together from Day 1, and it’s paid off.”

“It’s awesome,” said junior Tyler Poulin. “It’s unreal. Best experience of my life. It’s a dream come true. I love these guys, memories last forever and we made one tonight.”

The Watertown High boys' hockey team celebrates its 2-1 victory at TD Garden on Sunday, March 15, 2015. The win brought Raiders the school's first MIAA Division 3 state hockey championship.

Raider Times photo / Maura Gallagher
The Watertown High boys’ hockey team celebrates its 2-1 victory at TD Garden on Sunday, March 15, 2015. The win brought Raiders the school’s first MIAA Division 3 state hockey championship.

Both Watertown goals came courtesy of leading scorer Tyler Gardiner, who finished this postseason run with an impressive nine goals in six games. The Raider junior came alive offensively when his team needed him most.

“I feel unbelievable,” said Gardiner. “It’s definitely a dream come true to be able to play in the Garden, and then to be able to score and win a state championship. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

With a 2-0 lead established, a lockdown Watertown defense along with their star goaltender were able to hold off the Brownies, though Busconi was robbed of a shutout when Seamus Curran scored with just seven seconds left. Outside of that, Busconi was a brick wall between the pipes, hearing thundering chants of “MVP!” from the sea of red that was the Raider fan section every time he made a stop.

“I just told them to calm down, settle down. It’s just a hockey game. That’s all it is.”

— MIKE HAYES, Watertown boys' hockey coach

“I think we did really well defensively,” said Gardiner. “Tony played unbelievable as always, and we just buckled down in the defensive zone.”

Busconi picked up multiple honors this season, including his second consecutive Middlesex League MVP award and a spot in the Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Association’s Shriners All-Star game.

“I’ve got the best teammates in the state, I don’t even know what to say,” Busconi said. “I’ve got the best defense. We’ve got four senior [defensemen] and they play the hardest they can every minute of the game. If I’m getting MVP, I think it means we’re the best overall defensive team, it’s not just me out there.”

“He’s unbelievable,” said Watertown head coach Mike Hayes of Busconi. “He’s the best goalie around. He’s solid, he’s always on his angles. He played great tonight, he always does.”

Just as they did in their semifinal game against Norwell, the Raiders spent most of the first period against Agawam on their heels. Absorbing plenty of pressure, Watertown managed to get out of the first period without a score either way, despite finding themselves down in the shot count, 14-3.

The Watertown High fan section and the Raiders hockey team celebrate the school's first MIAA Division 3 state championship. Watertown beat Agawam, 2-1, at TD Garden on Sunday, March 15, 2015.

Raider Times photo / Maura Gallagher
The Watertown High fan section and the Raiders hockey team celebrate the school’s first MIAA Division 3 state championship. Watertown beat Agawam, 2-1, at TD Garden on Sunday, March 15, 2015.

But just as they did in their previous contest, the Raiders went into the locker room and came out swinging.

“We always say that good defense leads to good offense,” said Busconi. “So if we lock it down in the defensive zone, and they don’t score any goals, how can we lose? That’s our mind-set. We lock down in the defensive zone, and get a lot of goals in transition.”

The Raiders finally got their breakout going and had offensive pressure of their own, holding a 16-7 advantage in shots in the second period.

Gardiner broke the deadlock midway through the second frame, taking a pass from Poulin and firing one over goaltender Connor McAnanama’s blocker into the roof of the net to send the Raider crowd into bedlam.

Though he couldn’t match Busconi’s performance, McAnanama was excellent in his own right, making 31 saves on the day, his biggest coming in the second period when he robbed Raider freshman Timmy Connors, who seemed sure to finish Nick Martino’s cross-crease pass.

Entering the third period, the Raiders knew that the trophy was within their grasp. They had 15 minutes to defend their lead and win their title.

Watertown again found themselves on the back foot early, as the Brownies peppered Busconi with shots early in the period, but Busconi turned away each and every one. Curran nearly tied the game with seven minutes left, but his wrist shot rang off the crossbar and stayed out.

Just when things were starting to get tense,  Gardiner erased almost all doubt in the final result with his second goal of the game, beating McAnanama for the second time with just 1:45 to go.

“The puck went back to Brendan Berkeley,” Gardiner explained, “and he kind of flipped it up, and Mike Giordano let it go and it went to me, and I beat the defenseman with speed and went five-hole with it and it happened to go in.”

Curran ended Busconi’s shutout with seven seconds remaining to give his team some late hope, but it was too little too late. The Raiders threw gloves, helmets, and sticks all over the ice as they rushed to pile on top of their heroic goaltender before raising the first state championship trophy in the program’s history.

“No Watertown team has been able to say they went out a winner,” said Farry, “and being a state champ in the TD Garden, it may be repetitive, but it’s honestly a dream come true. I couldn’t be any prouder of my team, my family, my coaches, it’s such an honor and I’m so privileged to have this opportunity.”

–March 16, 2015–

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