- Name: Bob Johnson
- School or league: Watertown High
- Team: WHS Boys Ice Hockey
- Award: Tourney Update
It took a total team effort from hundreds of students and fans, 4 experienced coaches, 9 gritty forwards, 4 solid defensemen, and one tremendous goaltender, but the 13th seeded WHS Boys Ice Hockey team upset fourth seeded Tewksbury 3-2 at packed Stoneham Arena on Tuesday night. Many seasoned high school hockey followers all admitted they couldn’t remember the last time they had seen a goalie stand out and perform so well under pressure as WHS sophomore Anthony Busconi. He faced 48 shots, many of them jaw-droppers from point blank. And those same veteran viewers also praised the play of senior defenseman Danny Loprete, who was nothing short of sensational on the backline. The opening round victory allows the Red Raiders to advance in the MIAA Division II North Tournament for the first time since 2005.
The 7 seniors on this team have all gone one-and-done in their previous 3 attempts in the post-season, so they were determined to not let history repeat itself. For the second year in a row, the Red Raiders finished with an overall regular season record of 9-9-2 in the ultra-competitive Middlesex League, and were confident as they entered the tournament that if they executed the coach’s game plan, they could make a statement. This year, the Middlesex League has 1 team in the Super 8 field, 6 in the division 1 tourney, and 3 more in the division 2 tourney for a total of 10 teams out of 12 that qualified for the post season. That type of grinding schedule prepared the Red Raiders for whatever the Redmen could throw at them. So they came in ready to compete.
After a few minutes of back and forth play in the opening period, the newly formed line of Trace Dodge, Anthony Forman, and Matt Johnson got the Red Raiders on the board first with some heavy pressure on Tewksbury’s defensemen. At the 6 minute mark, Johnson and Dodge pinned the puck deep, and Forman poked it in off the scramble in front for the ever important 1-0 lead. But with a record of 14-3-1, Tewksbury certainly wasn’t going to let a 1-0 deficit discourage them from carrying out their own game plan of physical play and 2 deep forecheckers. The Redmen possess a potent offense, including 1 player with a whopping 59 points on the season, and they began to turn up the heat on Busconi and his teammates. But the sensational sophomore stopped all 15 shots he faced, and Watertown went to the locker room with that 1-0 lead.
The second period presented more of the same. The Red Raiders played smart defensively, Busconi stood his ground, and Tewksbury couldn’t bury the equalizer. But with just under 3 minutes to play in the stanza, the Redmen snuck one by Busconi on a rebound, and after he made another 3 saves, and suddenly it was a 1-1 game. And this is when head coach Mike Hayes specifically praised his troops. "I was extremely happy with the intensity and effort level from the team. They didn’t get down, and they played extremely physical, but smart. They executed the game plan very well. We wanted to shut down their big player. Whatever line was out there against him executed our 2-3 forecheck, which took the middle away from (him), making his breakout efforts very tough. They played as a "TEAM", which is what we preach all year in the locker room. They played for each other. It was great to see.” Perhaps the biggest signal of the night that the Red Raiders would be no pushovers came when Loprete met up with the Redmen’s big gun with a thunderous pounding at the WHS Blue line. Simply put, Loprete was a warrior all night, logging well over 30 minutes of ice time. Oh yeah, and Busconi stopped another 16 shots in the period.
The tension was thick as the 1-1 score remained deep into the third period. Busconi stopped a breakaway off a turnover at the 7 minute mark to keep the game tied. Undaunted, Tewksbury just kept coming, but Busconi just kept stopping. Shortly after that save, 2 sets of penalty killers killed off a Tewksbury power play that finally set up the go-ahead goal for Watertown. Seeming a bit confused during a line change, a Tewksbury defenseman tried to clear the puck out of his zone, only to have it stolen and gloved down by Joe Kelland. The junior, 3 sport athlete, wasted no time in using the D as a screen and buried the quick snap shot top-shelf for the 2-1 lead. Pandemonium came with the lead, as did Tewksbury’s compete level and sense of urgency. Depending on whose side you were on, the last 3 minutes were either numbingly slow, or double-time fast. The Redmen pulled their goalie with 80 ticks left on the clock, and put all kinds of pressure on the Red Raiders cage. WHS players sacrificed their bodies all over the offensive zone blocking shots, and desperately trying to make one final clear. Running out of gas, Kelland finally chipped it out off the wall, and Chris Fidler buried it right into the middle of the empty net from his own side of the red line for a 3-1 lead. More pandemonium ensued, but so too did an unbelievable Tewksbury goal with only 5 seconds to go. But one last dump in off the faceoff was blocked by Johnson and the celebration was on. In a game with many heroes, trust me, Busconi was truly outstanding. Up next for Watertown is a Friday night 8pm match up with Concord-Carlisle at Woburn. Let’s get Raider Nation to O’Brien Rink for some more pandemonium.