Lynnfield was staring at a 2-0 deficit midway through Saturday’s Cape Ann clash against North Andover.
But with their explosive first line of sophomore center John Festa flanked by seniors Greg Meininger and Dylan Costa buzzing opponents’ nets, the Pioneers are never out of any game.
Two minutes into the second period, Festa sent the puck down through neutral ice to Meininger, who dished a pass to Costa for the tip-in.
Festa (12 goals, 21 assists) then set up the equalizer four minutes later on the power play, drawing three defenders deep in the North Andover zone before firing a pass to captain Jeremy Young for the top-shelf flip.
Lynnfield finished just barely over .500 last season (9-8-5), and graduated goalie Craig Cataldo, a five-year starter.
Yet with the troika of Festa (33 points), Meininger (31), and Costa (28) piling up the points, the Pioneers entered the week at 13-3-1 overall (8-3-1 CAL) and right in the thick of the league race with Triton (11-4-1, 8-1-1) and North Andover (12-2-3, 9-2-2).
“We have a lot of seniors who have been huge players for our program,’’ said 15-year coach Vin Mirasolo. “This is a hard-working group who puts their team first and that’s key for success.’’
Costa said the Pioneers must maintain their intensity the rest of the way.
“We were underdogs at the beginning of the season, but we worked hard and proved ourselves as the schedule got tougher,’’ said Costa after Saturday’s 5-3 loss.
“Everyone’s real close and the senior leadership on our team is great. Today we didn’t bring it and we got down early and were never able to recover.’’
Lynnfield has received solid play in net from Joe Bassi, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who has registered two shutouts.
“The team has great confidence in Joe,’’ said Mirasolo. “We have incredible depth with our defense in Jeremy [Young] , Tyler [Smith] , and Craig [Anderson], so our defensive core certainly separates us from other teams.’’
The Cape Ann League contenders have taken note of Lynnfield’s improved play.
“Lynnfield is well coached and their first line will kill you if you let them get ahead,’’ said North Andover coach Peter Marfione.
“The Cape Ann League is ultra competitive and every night you need to come out and play, or else you won’t stay in it.’’
Triton, 10-10-1 a year ago, has split the series with Lynnfield this season and beat North Andover twice.
“The Cape Ann League has the smallest underrated programs around,’’ said Triton coach Drew Wile.
“Lynnfield especially, has the depth that really makes the game a constant battle. Their goaltending has been outstanding and their performance, along with the other teams in the league, is really a showcase of the best Division 2 conference in the state.’’
Newburyport, Lynnfield, North Andover, and Triton are a combined 45-14-10 with a week left in the season.
“We can’t play behind,’’ said Meininger, noting Lynnfield must keep its focus in its final three regular-season games.
“If we do, other teams will kill us.’’
The Pioneers’ 19 varsity players dyed their hair blond after securing a berth in the state tournament, a school tradition.
“We have 15 returning letter winners who have grown up together as a group,’’ said Mirasolo. “They’ve seen the successes and disappointments of the program and from here on out, it’s about executing and playing together. We have to bring it every day.“
Masconomet girls are tourney-bound
The Masconomet girls’ program, a co-op team that also includes players from North Andover, Hamilton-Wenham, Georgetown, and Newburyport (a new addition this season), qualified for the state tourney with a 4-1 win over Medford. Masco entered the week 8-6-4 after a 2-14-2 finish last season.
“Our girls have really worked hard,’’ said second-year coach Andrew Boepple. “The fathers of the girls on the team put together a summer-and-fall team to help them practice and a lot of Newburyport girls showed up, which was able to help them get transitioned to playing with the program.’’
With ties against Beverly/Danvers and Chelmsford, Masco has emerged as a successful program, thanks to its youth and solid coaching.
“We are fortunate enough to have Nicole Twomey, who coached the JV boys’ team at Newburyport, and we’ve had a ton of young players who have stepped up big time for us.’’
Junior goalie Alex Jones (Masconomet), a first-year captain, has recorded four shutouts and is allowing fewer than two goals per game.
“Alex has played every minute since eighth grade and she, along with our stingy defense, has been able to slow down the other teams’ neutral ice play and prevent breakouts,’’ added the coach.
“The whole team works incredibly hard,’’ said Boepple. “The girls come to play, day in, and day out, and that work ethic and experience will serve them well down the stretch.’’