WEYMOUTH - Jake McKinnon picked up the puck in his own zone and glided around three Weymouth defenders before creating and finishing an eye-opening breakaway goal at Connell Memorial Rink on Saturday night, leaving spectators on the glass to gasp: Wow.
McKinnon let out a quick fist-pump before being swarmed by his Framingham High teammates, but as he enters his fourth season on the varsity, his skills are not a surprise to the Flyers.
Paul Spear, in his 13th season as coach at Framingham, predicts McKinnon will be the best player in the Bay State Conference this season, citing his enormous talent, along with those intangibles that are often unquantifiable.
There was his second goal, a timely shot with his team trailing by one in the third period. Then he launched an unlikely 50-foot saucer pass from the Flyers’ zone to give a teammate a wide-open breakaway chance to take the lead. Later, he made a full-body dive in the neutral zone to stop Weymouth from having an odd-man rush late in the final period.
McKinnon was easily, to Weymouth coach Matt Cataldo’s eyes, “the best player on the ice’’ that evening.
But the moves that stood out didn’t even occur while the clock was ticking.
It was seeing No. 7 standing as close as he could to the bench door during the rare moments when he wasn’t on the ice. It was watching McKinnon shake off his coach after he had already been skating for three straight minutes, refusing to take a breather after a late-game timeout. And, it was sending a Weymouth player onto his back after the attacker made a questionable run on Framingham junior goalie Casey Brigham, who was clearly upset.
“No one else looked like they were going to do it,’’ McKinnon said. “I thought it was justified.’’
McKinnon sets the tone for a Flyers squad that is determined not to repeat last year’s fate of not qualifying for the Division 1 tournament. And Framingham, following the lead of their captain, was clearly skating with a Weymouth team that was the fourth seed in the Super 8 tournament last March.
His impact is profound.
“Did you watch the game?’’ Framingham senior Andrew Gallagher asked afterward. “If we get down - whether we need to get yelled at, or we need to get pumped up, or we need a hit - we look to this guy,’’ he said, pointing to the 5-foot-10, 185-pound McKinnon.
“When we need a goal, it’s this guy. The intensity that comes from this guy - I don’t even know how to describe it.’’
McKinnon was sent to the penalty box after his post-whistle hit, and suddenly, the Wildcats were seemingly in complete control of the game. The puck was stuck in the Framingham zone, and the Wildcats generated a number of chances.
But junior goalie Brigham would not back down between the pipes. He made glove saves, poked the puck away from two scoring chances, dove to cover another when a Weymouth player was skating in, and made at least a pair of shoulder saves before McKinnon returned to the ice.
“Because if the roles were switched, he’d pull through for us,’’ said Gallagher. “So you feel like you have to. I feel like you have to do it for this kid. You can’t just let him down.’’
Spear said that McKinnon plays with more heart than any player he has ever coached.
“When he’s out there, I feel like we play a little bit better than we usually do,’’ Gallagher said. “Because I have to play to his standards, otherwise I’m just gonna be left in the dust.’’
McKinnon netted five goals in Framingham’s first two games, but plays with an attitude that he could not care less about personal statistics.
Sure, he’d like to attract the attention of a college coach to play at the next level. But what he really wants starts with the trophy case at Framingham High - the one with “just a few hockey medals,’’ says Gallagher. He and his teammates want to add a trophy to remind folks in town that hockey is still an important part of the culture.
“Our saying is, ‘We’re bringing Fram-town hockey back,’ ’’ McKinnon said.
“We’re Fram-town hockey: We just grind it out. We get rebounds, we hit kids, we take a hit, we move the puck up - and we want people to notice that. Framingham hockey is back on the map.’’
Everyone was packing their bags and the last of the players were leaving the rink Saturday night while McKinnon was still talking with Gallagher.
All the other coaches had left, and assistant coach Will Ortiz couldn’t wait any longer.
“Jake, if someone doesn’t have a ride . . .’’ Ortiz said before he was interrupted.
“Yeah, I got it coach,’’ McKinnon said. “Don’t worry.’’
Ortiz didn’t look worried. No one on the Flyers does when it comes to Jake McKinnon.
Spillane producing for Franklin girls
Look out for the Franklin High girls (1-0-1 through Monday), whose junior captain, Kaitlyn Spillane, had scored five of the Panthers’ 10 goals in the first two games while playing both defense and on the front line.
Coach Margie Burke uses Spillane - who had her skate snapped in half during a 3-3 tie with Medway/Ashland - on the blue line and on the attacking end.
“She’s excellent,” Burke said of her leading returning scorer. “We just need her to stay healthy and she’ll continue to produce.”
Girls scoring goals, boys not so much
Through Monday, there were four girls’ teams in Division 1 with at least 20 goals: Acton-Boxborough Regional’s squad leads the way with 22, while Lexington (21), and Shrewsbury (20) join Woburn (21) in the top four.
No boys’ teams in Division 1 or 2 have reached the mark.