QUINCY — The puck trickled out from behind the Duxbury High net into the slot, where it found a North Quincy stick, resulting in a one-timer on net, seemingly destined for the upper-right corner and a momentum-changing 1-1 tie.
But Chris Johnson, as he so often has for the Dragons this season, made the highlight-reel glove save, preserving a 1-0 lead in an eventual 4-0 victory last week.
“The puck was kind of on net, so I just tried to stay on my angle and cover it up,” said Johnson, a senior goalie who clearly is the backbone of a Duxbury squad that stood at 14-2-5 after Monday’s 1-1 tie against Hingham at the Cape Cod Classic.
“I’ve been playing for so long that [saving shots off unexpected turnovers] comes natural. You see it better as a goalie than someone else. . . . Playing over the years, you kind of can predict what’s going to happen.”
Johnson has been able to predict what’s going to happen more often than not in his final season, compiling a .929 save percentage and 1.15 goals-against average for the Dragons. The assistant captain backstopped Duxbury to statement wins over Xaverian (3-2, Jan. 9) and Marshfield (4-2, Jan. 21), and has posted four shutouts, including three in one week against Silver Lake, Pembroke, and North Quincy, to fortify the Dragons’ position atop the Patriot League with an 11-0-3 mark.
“There’s no quit in Chris at all,” Duxbury coach John Blake said. “He’s communicating on the ice. He’s working as hard as he can. He’s keeping us in a lot of games. He’s making the big save when he needs to make it. . . . And these guys love playing in front of him, and that makes a huge difference”
After being sidelined for most of last season with a torn ligament in his thumb, Johnson was determined to make an impact this season. He was in the mix to start for the starting position last season, playing a couple of games in a cast. But after surgery, he watched from afar as the Dragons (9-10-4) were ousted by Braintree in the first round of the Division 1 South tourney.
This year, though, the 5-foot-8, 145-pound netminder — “all muscle,” insists Johnson — has been a rock in net.
“We have confidence in our goalie,” said senior forward Bobby O’Brien. “We try really to protect him. We got to keep putting the pucks in the net for him, because he’s keeping them out.”
After a slow start offensively — Blake chalked it up to players working their way into new roles — the Dragons are averaging 4.2 goals per game and just over 5 in Patriot League play.
Sophomore forward Luke Stevens, the son of former National Hockey League star Kevin Stevens, paces the Dragons with 26 points (16 goals, 10 assists). His linemates, senior captain James Marcello (6 goals, 19 assists) and junior Nick Marrocco (11 goals, 11 assists), have also been big contributors.
O’Brien has chipped in seven goals and eight assists, while his brothers, junior twins Trevor (10 goals, 11 assists) and Shayne (6 goals, 10 assists) are key cogs.
Even Johnson has gotten in on the fun, contributing three assists (a point total higher than eight other skaters on the team). “I shoot pucks in practice,” he said. “Coach gets pretty mad, but it pays off.”
But chances are Blake will be OK with it, as long as Johnson keeps putting up numbers between the pipes — he has allowed more than two goals just twice this season — and serves as a leader by example, as the coach put it, away from the game.
Blake said Johnson is important off the ice as well, with everything from body language to pure passion for hockey, from leadership skills to work ethic being big parts of the goalie’s game.
As the Dragons skate toward the state tournament, looking to make a much deeper run than last year, those intangibles could prove to be particularly important, be it on an individual or team basis.
“The biggest thing with Chris is he really came in this year with a good attitude,” Blake said. “He really improved on his work ethic. He really improved on his leadership skills.”
Johnson’s work ethic “was a little bit of a question mark last year,” the coach said. “It was something that we dealt with in the offseason, that we were upfront with Chris about, and he made a 180-degree turn on it. He really turned it around there, and I think that has a lot to do with the results you’re seeing this year.”
A welcome change for Norwood girls
At long last, the Norwood High girls are finding a bit of luck.
Coach Tim Coskren said his 13-3-2 Mustangs have not had a lot of bounces go their way this season; but in a 3-0 week, the tide started to turn, starting with a 4-2 win over Walpole in which defensemen Colleen Glaser and Katie O’Brien, a senior captain, each netted goals.
Norwood returned the next night to register a 3-2 win over Newton North in a game that was anything but ordinary.
The Mustangs scored the tying goal with 15 seconds left, then got the game-winner from Emily Kelly. Holding the puck behind the net, the junior forward threw it out front, where it bounced off the stick of the North goalie and into the goal for a 3-2 Mustang lead with 0.8 seconds to play on Senior Night. “In all the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve never been involved in an ending like that,” Coskren said.
Kelly leads the team with 46 points, though sophomore forward Kacie Smith (29 goals, 15 assists) isn’t far behind.
After participating in the Cape Cod Classic Tuesday and Thursday, Norwood could be in for big things in the state tournament, with junior goalie Samantha Baturin coming on strong and an offense averaging five goals per game.
And, maybe, some more bounces.
“You always need a little bit of luck,” Coskren said. “We haven’t been to get that until last week . . . which is good timing going into the tournament.”Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.