Dave Fasano paused. Before joining his Braintree High players in their locker room Sunday to celebrate their Division 1 South title at Gallo Rink, the Wamps’ coach took one more moment to enjoy the trophy in his hands.
“A lot of thoughts were going through my head,” said Fasano, who is in his 14th season as head coach. “I think the kids continue to gain confidence. . . . They really said, you know what, we are a state championship contender.”
Braintree (16-5-3) took a winding road to its first South crown, and its inaugural state final.
Ten games into the season, the Wamps were 5-4-1, battling for tournament eligibility. Then came the 8-0-2 second-half run that moved them from a postseason bubble to Super 8 discussion and championship contention.
Braintree then lost a Super 8 play-in game to Catholic Memorial, 2-1, after an early goal was called back.
As Fasano entered the locker room that night, he was concerned how his players would handle the loss. He did not stay concerned for long.
“I went into the locker room and I think I might have been more down than the kids,” Fasano said. “They said, ‘Coach, no problem. We’ll be back at it tomorrow. Our goal is to win the South now.’ That doesn’t happen a lot.”
His players were disappointed by the loss, but they knew they had another chance to make it to TD Garden, and they expected to take advantage of it.
The loss “definitely hurt right after, but we knew we had a good team so we knew we were going to get another life,” said captain Joe Harrington , one of 13 seniors on the roster. “We knew we probably should have won this tournament and we did. . . . we were pretty determined. We knew we would get to the Garden anyways, it was just another path.”
After a first-round bye, Braintree beat Falmouth (4-1) and Framingham (2-0) in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. Senior goalie Nick Anson (2.02 goals against average) gave up just the one goal over those six periods of play.
“Oh my God, nobody gave him enough credit during the year,” Harrington said. “We knew he was good but nobody else did. He’s really stood on his head.”
Anson was strong again early on in the D1 South final as Braintree grabbed a 3-0 lead after the first period. The goalie finished with 21 saves, though he let in three third-period goals before the Wamps held on for a 5-4 win. Senior forward Kyle Leslie (team-high 27 points), who along with linemates Nick Ward and Brian Gallagher has stepped up his play in the late-season surge, scored two goals with an assist.
While Barnstable players celebrated their fourth goal, which pulled them within one, Anson settled down his teammates rather than the other way around.
“You aren’t going to rattle him,” Fasano said. “They got the fourth one and you look at him and he was confident, he even told the defensemen, ‘No panic here.’ ”
Anson was aided by a strong group of defensemen who stepped up in the tournament after junior Sean Casey was knocked out with a wrist injury.
“[James] Flaherty , Harrington, and [Kevin] Howard — those three senior defensemen — are about as solid as you can get at this level of hockey,” Fasano said. “Not only do they block shots and get sticks in passing lanes, but they do all the little things.”
The win sets up a state final between Braintree and Reading Sunday afternoon at the Garden.
In late February “in Stoneham [in the Super 8 play-in game], we got a tough break,” Fasano said. “The kids didn’t hang their heads — a lot of them might have. We just kept working harder.
“Our goal was to get to the last Sunday of the high school season at the Garden, and we are going to be there representing the South.”
Canton seniors helped young teammates shine
From the outside, the Canton High boys’ squad appears young. Goalie Justin Slocum , who allowed just three goals in the Bulldog’s first three playoff games, is only a sophomore. Forwards Matt Lazaro and John Femia , who play on the first line and are first and third in points on the team, are sophomores too. Freshman Jerry Harding is fourth in points.
But the success those players experienced this season was a result of the work of the senior class, coach Brian Shuman said.
That’s what made Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Medfield in the Division 2 South final so hard.
“We have a young corps but the group that made this team was the seniors,” Shuman said. “These seniors have so many intangibles that got those young guys going . . . they wouldn’t have had great years if it wasn’t for guys like Ben Lodge , Tony Francescon , Andrew Howlett , and Austin Zannino . They were great mentors, so as young as we are, there are still big shoes to fill.”
The Bulldogs scored late in the third period Sunday to pull within one goal but could not find another tally before falling.
After the loss, Shuman reflected on what his team had accomplished: “We were one shot away . . . for us to come that far is pretty special.”
Defensive wall holding
for Duxbury girls
A move up to Division 1 has not slowed the Duxbury High girls’ team. After winning three straight Division 2 titles, the Dragons play Arlington Catholic Sunday for the Division 1 equivalent.
“We’ve got a little experience — a good, strong, veteran corps,” Duxbury coach Friend Weiler said. “This team knows what it takes.”
Through three tournament games, Duxbury has not given up a goal. Sunday in a semifinal matchup against Acton-Boxborough, senior goalie Rachel Myette had 19 saves in the 3-0 shutout win. Jane Dudley , Payton Donato , and Meredith Wright scored for the Dragons.
“Defense has been the key,” Weiler said. “We’ve been working on trying to limit the other team’s scoring chances and our defense has stepped up and limited other offenses. That starts with Rachel.”
Hanover High boys keep
scoring at furious pace
Goals were not hard to come by for the Hanover High boys in the Division 3 South tournament. Now averaging 4.5 goals per game on the year, the Indians scored 28 goals in four tournament games en route to the D3 South title. Five skaters scored Sunday in Hanover’s 6-2 final win over Bishop Stang.
“This year we’ve spread it out pretty well as far as our scoring,” Indians coach Jonny Abban said. “It’s a great group effort every game.”