THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR RAIDERS!

Reigning Division 3 state champions advance in MIAA tournament with 8-1 home win over Weston

Amin Touri, Raider Times staff

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Some nights, you can’t get the lid off the net. Some nights, you shatter the lid entirely.

Playing in front of a wild home crowd at John A. Ryan Arena on Monday night, everything was clicking for the Watertown High hockey team, as the defending Division 3 state champions couldn’t stop scoring en route to an 8-1 steamrolling of Weston.

Raiders March 7, 2016 Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North Grace DuguayRaider Times photo / Grace Duguay

“I said it before, you look on the scoreboard, and you see 8-1, and what I see is a good team playing good team defense,” said Watertown coach Mike Hayes. “These guys sell out, block shots, play hard, play as a family, and that to me is more important than the eight goals.

“When you can get a bunch of high school kids to sell out like that in your zone — and that’s a big reason why they won it all last year — I saw that a lot tonight, and that transitioned into offense.”

Senior forward Tyler Gardiner led the way with 6 points, burying three goals and assisting on three more. Seniors Michael Giordano and Tyler Poulin added two goals each, and Nick Martino had another for himself.

“We played an outstanding game” said Poulin, “We stuck together, battled hard all game, eight goals is a lot but it didn’t come easy. We battled hard in the D zone, which led to transitions, and we got goals that way. It was a team effort.”

Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North March 7, 2016 Sarah LampasonaRaider Times photo / Sarah Lampasona

Gardiner, Giordano, and Poulin make up the Raiders’ top line, the so-called “Gray Line,” and the senior trio combined for seven goals.

“We’ve been playing together since we were little, so we know where the other two are on the ice without even looking, ” said Gardiner. “Our second line is doing a great job staying positive, not letting up any goals, so it’s a good think that we’re back together, and that it’s helping us win, but it’s a whole team effort.”

Hayes had been shifting his lines all year, and hadn’t been putting together the “Gray Line” that went on a tear during last year’s state title run all that often, due to the team’s depth issues. But he went with it Monday night, and it paid off.

“It isn’t necessarily our confidence in them, it’s our confidence in guys like Nick Martino to carry the second line, because without that, you can’t put that line together,’’ said Hayes. “If he doesn’t skate, and Matt [Busconi] and Danny [Farrar] don’t skate, I can’t put that line together.

“But those three, they’ve been playing together forever, so that’s why we have confidence in them.”

March 7, 2016 Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North Melissa RoseRaider Times photo / Melissa Rose

Watertown dominated the opening minutes of the game, but weren’t able to find any goals in the first period. Weston (9-10-3) was in control in the final minutes of the first, with a late power play, but couldn’t find a goal either.

“In between the first and second, we just talked about talking the net more,” Hayes said. “[In the first period] we would beat the D and just take a shot. We didn’t go to the net. In the second period, we continued and got our feet moving, get to the net, and you saw what happened.”

What happened, early in that second period, was a five-minute nightmare that Wildcat goaltender Tim Pesek won’t soon forget.

Just a minute into the second period, Gardiner found Poulin wide open in the slot, and Poulin slipped it 5-hole to break the deadlock.

Not a minute later, on the opening faceoff of a Raider power play, Giordano won the puck back to Gardiner at the top of the left circle. He ripped a shot into the top corner that a screened Pesek never even saw.

“We got one off of a set faceoff,” said Hayes, “Tyler roofed it, and that really set everything in motion.”

Raiders March 7, 2016 Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North Grace DuguayRaider Times photo / Grace Duguay

Another minute later, a gorgeous stretch pass from Poulin, in his own zone, found Gardiner streaking down the center of the ice all alone. Gardiner slid the puck past Pesek to make it 3-0, still only three minutes into the second period.

Three minutes later, with the Raiders on another power play, Gardiner fired a low slap shot that Pesek was able to turn away, but only as far as Martino. The Raider forward fired home the rebound to just about finish Watertown’s tidy dissection of the 12th-seeded Wildcats.

Five minutes, four goals, and the Raider crowd was going wild the whole time, performing their own rendition of “Seven Nation Army” after every goal.

Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North March 7, 2016 Sarah LampasonaRaider Times photo / Sarah Lampasona

The Raiders weren’t quite finished, and came out in the third period wanting even more.

Gardiner completed his hat trick three minutes into the third, firing a slap shot through traffic and into the back of the net. Giordano picked up two goals of his own, just 30 seconds apart, to make it 7-0 with 7:00 remaining.

By the time Giordano buried the game’s seventh goals, the Raider fans didn’t even know how to react anymore, and simply all sat down for the first time all night, almost in awe of the offensive showcase in front of them.

The Wildcats managed to pull one back with 6:30 to play, but Poulin’s empty-net goal with 5:00 remaining put one final nail in the coffin for a commanding 8-1 victory.

March 7, 2016 Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North Melissa RoseRaider Times photo / Melissa Rose

With the onslaught happening on the other end, a standout performance from Raider goaltender Jason Hughes was almost overshadowed. Hughes only gave up one goal on 20 shots, and made a pair of brilliant saves in the third period.

Hughes flashed the leather with 10:00 to go to make an excellent glove save to rob one Wildcat, then dove across his crease in the final minutes to make another incredible stop, determined to defend his cage, even up by seven goals.

“I just gotta stay in the game,” said Hughes. “I usually just slide around a little bit, keep my mind focused. I put myself in different situations, mentally, figure out what I’d do if this was happening, that kind of stuff.”

“Jason played out of his mind,” Gardiner said of his goaltender, “I think that was one of the best games he played all year.”

All said, the 13th-seeded Raiders (11-11-0) put together their finest all-around performance when it mattered, defending their home ice one final time to punch a ticket to the Division 3 North semifinals.

“It’s unbelievable,” Gardiner said. “To be able to play a playoff game at [home] was an unbelievable experience. The crowd was rowdy, everyone on the team loved it, but to win just makes it even better.

“We came out and played our game, blocking everything else out. It’s a pretty great feeling to be able to say we won a home playoff game.”

Raiders March 7, 2016 Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North Grace DuguayRaider Times photo / Grace Duguay

The John A. Ryan Arena in Watertown had been chosen as a neutral venue for this game well before the Raiders had advanced out of the first round. As a result, Watertown ended up with an accidental home game, but made the most of it.

“It’s crazy,” said Martino. “We never thought we’d play here again. Who knew? But it feels great.”

The eight-goal outburst was in stark contrast to the Watertown’s 3-0 win over Northeast Regional on March 3, when the Raiders weren’t able to bury multiple golden opportunities.

“We just really worked this week on practice on bearing down,” Martino said. “Focused on burying ‘em because we know chances don’t come easy, so we just really focused on putting the puck in the net and it worked for us tonight.”

Said Hayes, “I always feel with these guys, that we’re going to eventually score, if we play good defense. It sounds weird, but that’s our philosophy. We’re defense first. Everything comes out of our zone and in transition, and when you can frustrate another team, and capitalize, it’s a dagger in the heart. They won a state championship doing it, and they did it again tonight.”

Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North March 7, 2016 Sarah LampasonaRaider Times photo / Sarah Lampasona

The win sets up am MIAA Division 3 North semifinal matchup against ninth-seeded Shawsheen Tech (11-7-4). The game will be played Thursday, March 10, at 8:10 p.m at Chelmsford Forum in North Billerica, the building where the Raiders won three straight games during their state title run.

But coming off a seven-goal win over Weston, the Raiders aren’t planning on letting it get to their heads.

“It’s just another game,” said Poulin. “We’ve got to get ready for the next one, take it one day at a time.”

March 7, 2016 Watertown High MIAA hockey Weston Division 3 North Melissa RoseRaider Times photo / Melissa Rose

–March 7, 2016–

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