Switching out the goalie for an extra skater is a common tactic in ice hockey, but Cambridge has put a twist on it this season.
For Cambridge junior Fionn McGowan, it’s not the mad rush to the bench in a late-game situation and an attempt at a comeback, but a unique way to do whatever it takes to stay involved and better the Falcons’ overall chances from game to game.
One day, McGowan can be found wearing the traditional goalie’s No. 1 and manning the net. The next, it’s with the No. 19 on his jersey, and taking a regular shift at forward.
For Cambridge coach Mark Marfione, it’s a way to maximize the contributions from his roster. Like many urban schools and smaller programs, the Falcons don’t have a wealth of bodies — only 19 players this season. But whereas most programs with limited participation might be lucky to find one or maybe two goalies, Marfione has the luxury of three this season.
McGowan alternates games in goal with fellow junior Oliver Ransom, and they are backed up by sophomore Pablo Ellsworth.
“It’s nice having the three goalies because it gives us the flexibility,” Marfione said.
McGowan played goal last summer in the Hockey Night in Boston Major Showcase, and also is a member of the Eastern Mass. Senators in the fall along with Ransom.
“We’ve always been battling, our whole careers,” McGowan said. “This year we were at a point where there was no clear ‘who’s better.’ "
The 6-foot-2-inch McGowan did have some experience as a skater at the youth levels, and Marfione decided to take advantage of that this season.
“What’s nice about him is, some goalies wouldn’t want to do it because they want to practice and have their technique and they’re a little worried about getting out of their comfort zone,” Marfione said. “The practices leading up to games he’ll play out as a forward. He’s very intuitive, he asks a lot of questions. We’re hard on him, we treat him like any other forward and make sure he knows all the systems and stuff. He’s really good about it.”
While McGowan described his forward play as “terrible” early in the season — “I’m not going to lie to you. I was falling a lot,” he said — Marfione definitely has seen the development and comfort level grow, and credits his hockey sense and able to see the ice from a goaltender’s perspective.
“I think it’s good for his development,” Marfione said. “I think a lot of time [goalies] focus at such a young age on just the goalie. I think it’s important for goalies to be good skaters, and obviously puck handling. It’s good to have all the skills.”
Last Saturday, McGowan was in his traditional spot in goal as the Falcons battled to a 2-2 tie with Dual County/Merrimack Valley 3 rival Bedford. It was Ransom’s turn Wednesday when league-leading Methuen came to Cambridge’s Simoni Memorial Rink, so McGowan traded his pads and goalie mask and patiently waited for his opportunity.
“I definitely prefer to play goal,” he said. “This is just something fun to do, I want to help out the team. It’s better than sitting on the bench opening doors.”
For much of the game, Cambridge rotated through about nine regular players — seniors Chris Gould and Zeno Minotti on defense along with sophomore Jalen Chu, and a forward group that included seniors Lou Targoff, Emmett Wiley and Caleb Jaffe, sophomore Jack Toner, freshman Wylie Welch, and eighth-grader Joshua Pite.
But when penalties and other attrition started to take their toll, Marfione didn’t hesitate to put McGowan at right wing alongside Wiley and Targoff to start the third period.
“We don’t just put him there for show,” Marfione said. “He knows the position really well, he’s big enough and, as goofy as he is, he always makes the right choice. He dumps it in, gets in position, battling for the puck.”
With the Falcons already leading after power play goals from Gould and Toner in the second period, McGowan tracked down a loose puck behind the net and fed it in front to Jaffe for a quick one-timer, the late goal sealing Cambridge’s 3-0 victory.
“That felt really good,” McGowan said. “It felt like my hard work as a skater really paid off.”
▪ Bobby Falvey not only delivered a big victory for Hingham, but also a milestone in his family. The senior captain and defenseman scored with 16.5 seconds left Saturday to lift the Harbormen to a 5-4 overtime victory over visiting Braintree in a South Shore matchup of top-10 public teams.
It also was the 200th career victory for Harbormen coach — and Falvey’s uncle — Tony Messina, who took over the reins in the 2008-09 season. He previously served as a longtime assistant under late Hingham coach Garrett Reagan, giving Messina more than 600 wins overall behind the bench of his alma mater.
▪ Essex Tech’s Mark Leonard also reached a coaching milestone with his 250th career victory Saturday as the Hawks beat Northeast, 8-0, in a Commonwealth Athletic Conference matchup.
More than 200 wins came behind the bench at Peabody, where Leonard coached for 24 seasons before taking over the Essex Tech program in 2019-20. With two more wins this week, the Hawks are 7-1-2 this season and 24-11-8 in Leonard’s two-plus seasons.
▪ Milton Academy will face Pomfret as part of a tripleheader Saturday at the Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg to raise funds for Mustangs senior Jake Thibeault, a Fitchburg resident who suffered a spinal cord injury during a game last September.
The event, named “Hockey Day in the Burg,” will start with a matchup between Fitchburg State and Westfield State at 3 p.m., followed by the Milton Academy-Pomfret game at 5:30 p.m. It will conclude with the Fitchburg/Monty Tech co-op — for which Thibeault played as a sophomore in 2018-19 before transferring to Milton Academy — taking on Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley at 7:30 p.m.
▪ Beverly announced that assistant coach Jim Sasso will serve as interim coach, beginning with Saturday’s game against Saugus. Sasso has worked the past 2½ seasons with Greg Fonzi, who resigned Tuesday, one day after his involvement in a postgame incident in which he shoved a Danvers assistant coach, who fell to the ice.
Games to Watch
Saturday, Dighton-Rehoboth/Seekonk vs. Somerset Berkley, 11 a.m. (Driscoll Arena, Fall River) — It’s a battle of unbeaten teams in the South Coast Conference and a rematch of last year’s league championship game, won by D-R/Seekonk. The visiting Falcons are on a 19-game unbeaten streak, the only blemish a 3-3 tie vs. the Raiders last season.
Saturday, Catholic Memorial at St. John’s Prep, 2 p.m. (Essex Sports Center, Middleton) — First place in the early Catholic Conference race, and perhaps the Globe’s rankings, is on the line as the No. 5 Knights (8-1-1, 2-0-1) visit the top-ranked Eagles (7-1-0, 3-1-0).
Wednesday, BC High at Catholic Memorial 5 p.m. (Warrior Ice Arena) — If the Knights get past St. John’s Prep, awaiting them will be their Catholic Conference archrivals, the No. 11 Eagles, for the first of two league meetings.
Wednesday, Waltham at Central Catholic, 7:10 p.m. (ICenter, Salem, N.H.) — The 16th-ranked Raiders are unbeaten in the Dual County/Merrimack Valley 1, but could get their toughest test yet from the visiting Hawks.
Thursday, Pope Francis at Austin Prep, 7:10 p.m. (Breakaway Ice Center, Tewksbury) — Another battle of top-10 teams pits the No. 7 Cardinals and the No. 6 Cougars in a nonleague affair.
Jim Clark can be reached at email@example.com.