BOURNE - As the players on the Mansfield High hockey team made their way back onto the ice for the third period Sunday afternoon, the Hornets were staring at a 3-1 deficit against Hockomock League rival Franklin at Gallo Rink.
This was their moment, in the program’s first appearance in Division 2 South final. What player would step up?
Less than a minute into the third period, center Erik Foley received a pass from senior wing Steve Folan, and skated in along the right wing boards. A Franklin defenseman tried to force him outside, but Foley snapped a wrister from the circle that sailed over the right shoulder of goalie Mike Donadio.
The Hornets had life, down 3-2.
“Number 6 is a player,’’ said Franklin coach Chris Spillane of Foley.
“The last goal he scored, our backcheckers weren’t there. He was a high guy, he had all the time in the world, and if you give him a chance like that, he’s going to bury them every time. He’s a good player.’’
His wrister was unleashed with pinpoint precision. And Foley, one of seven freshmen to skate regular shifts for coach Rick Anastos this season, was a first-year varsity player.
Franklin went on to win, 5-2, but Anastos was delighted with his team.
“I am extremely proud of the way these kids fought,’’ he said. “You have to remember, in that locker room and on that ice tonight, were seven freshmen. We were playing with seven freshmen. I couldn’t be prouder. That’s phenomenal.’’
The freshmen had played together at the youth level, and their familiarity with one another helped make their transition to quicker, more physical play at the varsity level more seamless.
“They completed the team,’’ said Anastos. “I think the way they were spread out throughout the whole lineup had some seniors that they fit in with.’’
With a deep roster, the Hornets (15-5-3) went 7-2-3 in a very difficult Kelley-Rex division, behind Franklin.
Foley quickly asserted himself as one of the most promising players in the region, leading the squad in goals (22) and assists (17). At the beginning of the season, he earned a spot on the first line alongside Folan (nine goals, 13 assists) and fellow senior Mike Blackman (11 goals, 14 assists).
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I came in here,’’ said Foley. “I just played on the line coach told me to play. I probably wouldn’t have all those points if I didn’t play in front of two seniors.’’
Will Kelleher also stepped up. Teamed up with Adam Blackman on the blue line, Kelleher found his scoring touch, registering five goals and eight assists.
“It was great,’’ said Kelleher of his productive season. “I didn’t really expect it. I put a lot of hard work into it, and I have good teammates all around me.’’
Thanks to the contributions of the freshmen, along with a strong core of seniors, Mansfield reached the South final for the first time.
“Just knowing that nobody else from Mansfield ever made it this far, and we helped them make it, it’s awesome,’’ said freshman forward Jared Collins.
The youngsters were impact players all season. But on occasion, Anastos had to be reminded of their presence.
“There were games where my daughter, after the game, would say ‘Dad, did you realize you had five freshmen on the ice at once?’ and I’d say ‘No, I didn’t,’ ’’ said Anastos. “Their impact is huge.
“That happened a lot, because you have three that are defensemen, and you’d have two freshmen on the same line, so Erik would stay out, the two freshmen would go out and you’d have two in the back’’ on defense.
“I’m looking forward to next year,’’ said Anastos, who will lose seven seniors to graduation.
“We should be a good team next year again, absolutely.’’
After surprise season, Westwood looks ahead
The Westwood High girls were not expected to be a contender in Division 2 this season.
But after a closely contested, 3-2 loss to Falmouth in the Division 2 state semifinals, coach Rick Chrusciel believes his team earned a little respect.
“I don’t think anybody ever expected us to be there,’’ said Chrusciel. “We knew we had a tremendous amount of talent. It came down to the confidence we could build in these girls. We knew the sky was the limit for us if we could grow up and learn how to play the game and focus, and I think that’s what happened.’’
After a 9-2-1 start, the Wolverines lost three defensive starters midway through the season to injury. Senior goalie Courtney Fay was sidelined with a concussion, along with a top four defenseman. Another blue liner suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Sophomore Siobhan Burke stepped in for Fay and limited foes to two goals per game.
Coupled with the explosiveness of sophomores Kelly Healey (17 goals, 19 assists), Ela Hazar (nine goals, 25 assists), and Kim Egizi (16 goals, 16 assists), Burke gave the Wolverines a chance to win, night in and night out.
“She probably has the toughest position on this team,’’ said Chrusciel. “As a goaltender, you like to see some pucks shot at you once in a while, but when your offense is putting on average 50-something shots on net as we did and giving up somewhere between five and 10, every once in a while you have to yell at the goaltender to stay awake.’’
The Wolverines lost their final two games of the regular season (Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard), but erupted for an impressive 8-1 first-round victory over Scituate.
In the quarterfinals against Gardner/St. Bernards, Westwood piled up a 45-7 shot advantage, but narrowly escaped with a 3-2 victory.
“Duxbury and Falmouth are head and heels above everyone else, and we really gave them a game,’’ said Chrusciel. “It was a great game to watch.’’
Westwood will graduate two seniors.
“With the success that we’ve had with this program, these kids are coming to Westwood High School instead of going to an Independent School League school because they see that the program has come on strong and is going in a positive direction,’’ said Chrusciel. “I look at the future and say, ‘Boy, this is going to be fun.’ ’’