Martha’s Vineyard Mariners skate to East Coast Classic title

Willie Levesque puts a shot on Wolfpack goalie Parker Milner. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Mariners have been skating in adult tournaments in one form or another since the late 1980s. Each summer for the past five years, they have competed at the M.V. Arena in the East Coast Classic, a free-wheeling, three-day men’s AAA level pro-am tournament that matches players with college, minor league, and National Hockey League experience.

Sunday afternoon at the Arena, the Mariners picked up their first-ever championship trophy after skating to a 5-4 win over the Connecticut Wolfpack.

The 19-man Mariners roster included four Vineyarders: Matt Goethals (HC Davos, Switzerland), Steve McCormack (St. Michael’s, Colorado Eagles), Joe Merry (Merrimack, Reading Royals), and Willie Levesque (Northeastern). Formerly of Oak Bluffs Levesque was a fourth round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks and played for the AHL Cleveland Barons and ECHL Johnstown Chiefs. Four additional players have NHL ties: Brian Day (Colgate, New York Islanders), Brendan Clark (Merrimack, New York Rangers), Mark Eaton (Notre Dame, Pittsburgh Penguins), and Jim Fahey (Northeastern, San Jose Sharks).

Behind the bench was Mike Jackson, a former Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys varsity coach who played at Norwich University and for the Mariners.

The 5th annual East Coast Classic got underway Friday afternoon with eight teams competing for the Vineyard Cup.

The Mariners started off their championship run with a 7-4 win over the Prospectors from the New England Senior Hockey League, based in Metro Boston.

The local entry played twice on Saturday. In the morning contest against the Babson College-dominated Roll Tide, the Mariners jumped out to a 3-0 lead, only to see the Tide roll back and forge a 3-3 tie, sending the game into overtime. The result was ultimately decided in a shootout, with the Tide winning 1-0 in five rounds. The Mariners shook off the setback and took the evening game, 7-5, over the Dragon Club of the Southern Connecticut Hockey League to earn a semifinal rematch with Roll Tide on Sunday morning.

The semifinal was much like the previous encounter. The Mariners took a 2-0 lead, then the Tide rallied to tie, 2-2. The third period was the difference as the Mariners struck on the power play with a bang-bang pass play across the crease and added an insurance goal with 4:57 left to book a place in the final against the Wolfpack from Hamden, Connecticut.

The Pack took an early first period lead before Chris Wagner and Brendan Clark gave the Mariners a 2-1 advantage heading into the second period. Willie Levesque, Brendan Corcoran (shorthanded), and Mark MacDonald all lit the lamp in the second stanza to give the Mariners a 5-1 lead. The Wolfpack got one back 17 seconds from intermission.

The Nutmeggers rallied for two more goals in the first 63 seconds of the third period, and in short order rang the inside of the right post. But the Mariners held on to skate away with the Vineyard Cup.