Nantucket downs Vineyard icemen, 5-1

Whalers win battle for first place, stay unbeaten.

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Fresh off three consecutive shutouts, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys hockey team faced its toughest test yet when the undefeated Nantucket Whalers came ashore for a Cape and Islands League Lighthouse Division first-place showdown, Saturday afternoon at the MV Ice Arena.

Throughout much of the game, the Vineyarders pressed the attack and outshot the Whalers 29-19, but few were quality chances. Nantucket played the role of counterpuncher, picking their spots, punishing mistakes, and attacking with ruthless efficiency to earn a 5-1 win.

Nantucket improved to 7-0-1 overall and 4-0 in the C&I Lighthouse, while MV dropped to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the league.

“We’d get going, get a couple of shots, get stuck down too deep, and in transition they were all over us coming down the ice, and they’d be one and done,” Vineyard Coach Matt Mincone said.

While the Vineyard effort was far from lacking, Nantucket showed why they are an unbeaten team. The Whalers were vocal and boisterous on the bench, and played with swagger on the ice. Nantucket’s Marsh Hickman scored four goals to notch a Texas hat trick, but make no mistake, the Whaler win was a fundamentally sound, disciplined team effort.

“They looked like a team that hasn’t lost this year,” Mincone said. “They were confident, they played 45 minutes, they chipped in when they could. They’re an opportunistic team. I noticed that last year in the game here. Seems like they lull you in a little bit, then they strike.”

The Vineyarders started brightly, and looked dangerous on an early power play, but Nantucket jumped on top with two goals, 25 seconds apart. The first was a left-post to right-post pass and tap-in. The second came 13 ticks into a Whalers power play, when Hickman redirected the puck past Vineyard goalie Graham Stearns with a belt-high tip.

With 55 seconds left in the period, the Vineyarders scored their only goal of the game. The hockey gods were smiling as Liam Marek slid the puck across the Nantucket crease from 10 feet away and it caromed off the skate of Whaler goalie Jack Culkins into the net. Jake Cleland assisted on the play.

Nantucket quickly erased any momentum gained from the bizarre tally by scoring two goals in the first 2:14 of the second period. Both goals came on rebounds. The second was another power-play goal, and the Whalers had three shots at point-blank range before Marsh Hickman dinged the puck off the post to light the lamp.

At that point, Coach Mincone called time-out and switched goalies to light a fire under his team. Oliver Lively came in for Graham Stearns. The Vineyarders responded with a series of strong shifts over the next several minutes, but couldn’t chip into the Nantucket lead.

Six minutes into the third period, Jack Gammons capped the win by putting away a nifty give-and-go in front of the Vineyard crease.

“In the first period, I thought we were doing really well, then, boom, score, boom, score,” Coach Mincone said. “You make it 2-1, you’re feeling good about it, then it started to kind of go. [Nantucket] plays like a full ice trap. It’s obvious to see what they’re doing, but they’re disciplined with it, so you’ve got to be structured to break it. We were doing some different things to try to get through it. We were getting through fine, but transition-wise they were just better.”

Monday afternoon, the Vineyarders traveled to Tony Kent Arena in South Dennis, and charged back into the win column with a big win over Dennis-Yarmouth. The Dolphins scored first, but the Vineyarders exploded for eight unanswered goals, and headed home 8-1 winners.

Hunter Meader scored four goals, and Nick BenDavid had three to notch his first hat trick, earning player of the game honors. Jake Scott scored the other Vineyard goal, and added an assist. Liam Marek rang up five assists, and Cam Geary had four, with Elias Gundersen, Charlie Lakis, and Mike Wallace picking up one apiece. Winning goalie Oliver Lively made 14 saves. Senior co-captain Aiden Marek earned a coaches’ honorable mention for his commitment to the team.

The Vineyarders play at Sandwich on Friday, and host Mashpee/Monomoy on Saturday at 4 pm.