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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Hot on the heels of a convincing 4-0 win at Duxbury on Saturday, the Xaverian Brothers High School varsity hockey team got a bit of a scare on their home ice against Needham last Wednesday night. The Rockets (3-3-3), who recently fallen narrowly to CM by a final of 2-1, nearly pulled out a huge win at Canton Ice House against the No. 5 Hawks (4-0-2), but a late goal with the goalie pulled by freshman forward Robbie Barletta (two goals) salvaged a 4-4 tie and kept the Xaverian unbeaten on the season.
Scoring came early and often on the eve of Thursday’s snow day, as junior forward Tom Chmielewski fired home a one-timer from the hash marks just 1:08 in to give Needham an early 1-0 lead.
Almost immediately after Chmielewski’s game-opening goal, the Hawks responded with a pair of goals in a span of just 26 seconds. Barletta tied the game at one after coming in on a mini-breakaway, deking to his forehand, and sliding the puck five-hole on Needham goaltender Dylan Jones with 12:59 to play in the period. With 12:33 to play, Josh Barton flew in on a two-on-one and fed a backhand pass to senior captain Ross Vona, who one-timed the puck past an outstretched Jones to give Xaverian a 2-1 lead.
A little over three minutes later with 9:12 remaining in the period, Kurt Brinkhaus (two goals) got a bit of puck luck as the sophomore flew down the left wing and ripped a slap shot on net. James Herring made the initial save, but the puck sputtered up in the air off of the junior net-minder’s glove, over his shoulder and into the back of the net to tie the game at two for Needham.
Just 1:23 later with 7:49 to play, Brinkhaus scored his second of the game by smacking home a rebound on a net-mouth scramble to give Needham a 3-2 lead at the first intermission.
Midway through the second period, Xaverian’s Will Wainwright was assessed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for checking from behind. Following a trio of hit posts and near goals by the Rockets on the ensuing power play, the Hawk penalty killers were able to kill off the entire major penalty and kept it at a 3-2 game.
With 6:40 to play in the second period, Jones made a huge blocker save and stoned Xaverian’s C.J. Monturio on a short-handed breakaway bid, preserving the one-goal lead for Needham. With 3:42 to play in the period and the teams skating at four-on-four, Sam Rutter extended the Needham lead after flying down the left wing and firing a shot upstairs and over the shoulder of Herring as the Rockets now led 4-2.
After Robbie Barletta’s penalty came to an end, Xaverian received 1:01 of power play time near the end of the second period. With 1:57 to play, junior defenseman Doug Concannon received a pass in the high slot from Josh Barton and fired a one-legged wrister into the top-right corner of the net to cut the deficit to 4-3 at the end of two periods.
The third period saw Needham tighten up defensively in order to try and prevent the Hawks from netting the tying goal. As a result of so many Needham bodies clogging up the middle of the ice in the opposing zone, Xaverian began to cycle the puck down low in order to try and generate offense. For the majority of the third period, this strategy of clogging shooting lanes and forcing Xaverian to navigate along the boards and behind the net worked wonders for the Rockets.
With 1:40 to play and the game still 4-3 in favor of Needham, Xaverian opted to pull Herring from the cage for an extra attacker and the move immediately paid off the Hawks. With 1:26 remaining, Vona unleashed a worm-burning clapper from the point and puck was redirected in front by Barletta and through the five-hole of Jones to tie the game at four, sending the Xaverian bench into a frenzy.
Neither the Hawks nor Rockets took any aggressive action in the final 1:26 of the third period, as both teams played extremely conservatively and were content with earning a point apiece. The game ended in a 4-4 tie.
At the time of print, Xaverian will return to their home ice against rival Catholic Memorial on January 13 while Needham will host Natick at Babson that same night.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.