You knew it was going to be a tight game.
The Vineyarders lost to Nantucket 4-1 at home earlier in the year, and beat the Whalers 3-1 at Nantucket. After beating Mashpee/Monomoy 7-0 in the first round of the playoffs, goals in Tuesday’s game were much more precious.
It was a full house at the Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena; many Vineyard fans were attired in white to pay tribute to the Vineyard hockey team, who in an effort to promote team building had all bleached their hair blond.
“It’s a great experience for the kids,” Coach Matt Mincone told The Times. “They’ll remember it for a long time. The support was unbelievable. I had to reel that in in the beginning, tell them to turn it off somehow. The emotion for the first seven or eight minutes was intense. We used a lot of energy. We were a little bit taxed.”
That first period was played at a fast pace, and was very physical — with Charlie Lakis, a Vineyard defenseman, even inadvertently knocking down one of the referees.
But then with 26 seconds left in the period, the Vineyard took a minor penalty, and so they would be forced to play a man down for the beginning of the second period. Fortunately, Jake Scott, one of the heroes of the first playoff game, is an ace on the penalty kill, and managed to get some great shots on net even though the team was a man down.
Having killed the penalty, Vineyard drew first blood with a wrist shot from Liam Conley, set up by a feed from Jake Scott.
For most of the second period, the two teams traded chances, but Vineyard goalie Graham Stearns kept the Vineyarders alive with some spectacular saves between the pipes. “He got tested. He’s been solid all year long,” Coach Mincone said of the senior captain. “Graham was the glue part of the team to bring it all together. When you have goaltending and leadership like that, good things can happen.”
With about three minutes left in the period, Nantucket fired a shot from the blue line and pounced on a rebound, and tied the score 1-1.
The third period continued on with the same intensity, and the Vineyard seemed to have an opportunity to break the game open when two penalties were called on Nantucket on the same play. Normally this would mean a 5-on-3 for the Vineyard, but since both penalties were committed by the same player, Nantucket would be a man down for two consecutive shifts, but the Whalers would kill both penalties.
“If you look at our scores all year long, we don’t score a lot of goals. If you have an opportunity like that, you have to fabricate something,” Coach Mincone said. “We just never got in front of the net. We had a few good shots. We hit the crossbar on a couple. It’s a game of inches. I thought we might have a 5-on-3, but either way you have four minutes of a power play, and we didn’t generate anything out of it. Their goalie played well.”
The first three periods ended in a tie, and the game went into overtime. MIAA rules state that overtime will be 8 minutes long and be played 4-on-4.
Not an unusual spot for these cardiac kids. They had played five overtime games in the regular season, winning four, with one ending in a tie.
“We’ve been there before. It wasn’t an overwhelming sensation for us,” Coach Mincone said.
The overtime period was end-to-end action, with both teams having scoring chances, but with about 4 minutes left in overtime, a scrum occurred in front of the Vineyard goal, a shot squeezed out, and the winning goal was scored by Nantucket.
“We left it all out there. I told the players after the game. We’re all thankful for the opportunity to be in that moment. It’s a life lesson and it’s great to be part of it,” Coach Mincone said. “They didn’t deserve the loss, but they deserved to be there in that moment — they’ll remember this for a long time.”
That goal in sudden death brought an end to a memorable and exciting season. After the game the seniors on the Vineyard squad skated over to the Vineyard cheering section and raised their sticks in appreciation of the fans who had so faithfully stood behind them all season.
“There was a lot of pride there yesterday,” Coach Mincone said. “They lost with dignity — wishing Nantucket good luck going forward.”
George Brennan contributed to this report.