It was early in a key Bay State Conference matchup against Needham, and Tyler Gover passed the puck from the right side into the slot to captain Peter Kelly, who backhanded his shot five-hole to give Norwood a 1-0 lead.
Six teammates celebrated the goal in the right corner; the five young men on the ice and, on the opposite side of the glass, Matt Brown.
It’s been just over two years since Brown’s on-ice hockey career was cut far too short as a sophomore, but as his Mustangs carry on valiantly in what would be his senior season, Brown continues to be a driving force, providing inspiration, support, and even some key insights on the game.
“We made him a coach, so he’s been telling me what he sees and he’s usually right on,’’ said Norwood coach Bill Clifford. “He does a good job. He knows the game inside and out and tells me some things I miss.’’
With just four games remaining, the No. 17 Mustangs (12-2-4, 9-0-4 Bay State) have clinched a fourth straight trip to the postseason and look to secure themselves a high seed for the Division 1 South sectionals while also trying to capture a Bay State crown.
There is no doubt that Brown, who suffered a broken neck in a game against Weymouth in 2010, will be there every step of the way and his teammates would have it no other way.
“He’s with us every game,’’ said Clifford. “He comes to the practices, pasta dinners. The kids are always over his house hanging out, so they’ve got a good bond together.’’
It’s been a tough few years for the Norwood hockey program, but Brown being a part of it all has helped the Mustangs persevere and his “never quit’’ message is being heeded every step of the way.
“I’m sure they wish he was out there playing with them, but his presence, being around, gets these kids fired up a little more for the games,’’ said Clifford. “They want to do it for him and have a great year for him. It’s good to see.’’
Norwood walked away from the Needham game with a 4-3 victory and Brown, grinning ear-to-ear, made his way to the locker room to celebrate with his teammates.
“They’re a great bunch of kids, they’ve been through a lot, a lot of these seniors and juniors over the years,’’ said Clifford. “It’s good to see them get a good win like that and see Matt happy with a smile on his face too. He’s always positive, upbeat and it’s just great to have him around.’’
Uphill climb for CM
There are six games left on Catholic Memorial’s schedule and none are easy, including three against teams ranked in the top six of the Globe’s Top 20.
Add to that the fact the 11th-ranked Knights (6-6-1, 2-3-1) need to grab seven points in those games to avoid a repeat of last year, when they missed out on postseason play for the first time in 27 years.
But if any one team is prepared for the challenge, it’s Bill Hanson’s Knights.
“The good thing is that we’ve played well the last two weeks,’’ said Hanson, now in his 36th season. “All the go-to guys are really starting to finish and do what they are capable of.’’
Coming off a 4-4 tie against BC High Saturday, in which the Knights gave up the tying goal with less than a minute to play, the team was optimistic heading into a week that could make or break them.
“I feel real good about playing Malden Catholic [on Wednesday],’’ said Hanson. “I feel good about playing the Prep this week.’’
They suffered defeats in their prior games against No. 1 Malden Catholic and No. 5 St. John’s Prep, by a combined 9-1, but CM has found a scoring touch that was missing earlier in the year.
“The last two games we’ve scored nine goals,’’ said Hanson. “We’re going in the right direction. It’s no fluke what we’re doing right now.
“We’re getting opportunities where three, four, five weeks ago we weren’t because we’re playing much better in the neutral zone now, which is allowing us to get the puck deep.’’
The Knights have scored only 29 goals this season, but have also allowed only 29 goals thanks to the efforts of goalie Shane Starrett, who continues to improve in front of a solid unit of blue liners.
The offense, of late, has come from many sources as five players scored in a 5-0 win over Xaverian last week and four scored in the tie with BC High.
They must continue their recent scoring surge in order to extend their season, with three of their final four opponents being out-of-state powers, including a finale against Fairfield Prep of Connecticut.
“I feel real good about where we are right now,’’ said Hanson. “I just want to be the team, if we do make the tournament that no one wants to play.’’
Games of the week
No. 7 Burlington at No. 13 Reading, Monday, 7:30 p.m. - This is the first of two major tests for the Red Devils (Wakefield on Saturday). If they survive it will go a long way toward solidifying a spot in the Super 8. The Rockets will also be looking to make a statement in this one, so expect a tight contest.
No. 14 Westford at No. 2 Hingham, Monday, 7 p.m. - This was a game of the week of ours when it was originally scheduled for Jan. 21. Now it carries even more weight and a win could be a very solid résumé piece for either team.
No. 11 Catholic Memorial at No. 1 Malden Catholic, Wednesday, 6 p.m. - The top-ranked Lancers will look to make it through their Catholic Conference schedule without a loss for the second straight season. Of course, the one team in their way is CM, which desperately needs this game if it hopes to qualify for the postseason.
No. 15 St. John’s (S) at No. 5 St. John’s Prep, Wednesday, 8 p.m. - If the Pioneers can pull off the upset here, they should be able to roll through the rest of their schedule, and depending on what goes on above them, they could make a dash toward the Top 10. Beating the Prep is a tall task, though, and their top line of Sam Kurker, Brian Pinho, and Tyler Bird is firing on all cylinders.
No. 2 Hingham at No. 1 Malden Catholic, Saturday, 5:40 p.m. - The Harbormen’s defense and junior goalie John Grenier have allowed only 30 goals this season for an average of 1.50 per game. The Lancers have scoried 41 goals over their last eight games, so something’s got to give. This is the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup of the season.
Danvers at Saugus, Saturday, 7:10 p.m. - Both teams are in the postseason already, but there is still some unfinished business as the top two teams in the Northeastern Conference’s North Division pair up. The Sachems (9-4-2, 8-1-2) are only two points back of the Falcons (12-2, 10-1) and will be looking to avenge a 5-4 loss earlier in the season.