NORTH ADAMS — Taconic Ice Hockey took its time in the visitor locker room at Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink Wednesday night. The Braves were drained, emotionally and physically by a 4-3 win over host Wahconah.
They survived a total of 11:30 of penalty time, including a four-minute major and a full three-minute period of whistled 5-on-3. The second period alone featured 10 of those minutes, which allowed the Warriors to equalize what was a 3-1 deficit before the final 15 began.
“I think we’re a pretty solid hockey team. We had a bit of a melt-down there in the second, but when we’ve been five-on-five this year, particularly against Wahconah, we’ve done fairly well,” said THS Head Coach Jeff Daury. “We really settled down in the third period which was nice to see. You can’t parade to the box, so we challenged them to do that. We had a pretty good conversation with the kids to play with discipline and do things the right way.”
Taconic has played much of the season without top-scorer Kevin Quinto, who suffered a collar bone injury in January. The Braves also underwent a mid-season coaching change around the time their senior star went down. After floundering a bit early in 2017, including a 7-3 home loss to these same Warriors on Jan. 4, Taconic appears to be righting the ship for a second-half run under Daury.
“We definitely had a struggle throughout the beginning of the year and they had a good win on us last time. With our new coach and new systems together, we came out stronger and I think we had more heart,” said junior captain Nikos Gian. “They were a bit overconfident, but they did really good, we just out-worked them a little bit.”
“We’re starting to get used to it, but it’ll definitely be handy when he comes back to help us put a few more points up on the board,” added Gian of Quinto. “But it’s definitely been difficult.”
The Braves came out of the gate in North Adams hungry. Senior co-captain Brandon Peaslee found himself in the right place at the right time, catching Wahconah keeper Corey Callender hugging the left post. Peaslee took a centering pass from Kyle Crocker and fired a shot from the left wing just 1:50 into the game for a 1-0 lead.
Wahconah didn’t look quite stunned yet, and managed to even the score at one on a Vinnie Orlandi goal with 5:38 left in the period. A long attempt by Wahconah’s Toby Ellingwood found its way through the crowd in the crease, where the Warriors’ senior captain was waiting at the far post.
However, the goal ultimately served the purpose of giving Taconic its first chance to show newfound resiliency and maturity. The Braves didn’t turtle at the first sign of adversity. Instead, Peaslee answered right back with a straight slapshot just 36 seconds after Orlandi lit the lamp to go back ahead 2-1.
Less than a minute later, the Braves scored again. Aiden Kotski finished off the goal, but things started way back behind the Taconic end line, where defenseman Crocker managed to loft a high clear out of the Braves zone. Momentum suddenly shifted into attack mode for THS. The Braves earned an offensive zone face-off, and the goal came off Kotski’s stick at 4:24 of the first.
The Braves admit a 3-1 advantage at Wahconah, a place they have seldom held leads of any sort, got to them a bit. This led to a second period riddled with trips to the penalty box. Interference, boarding, roughing, hooking, the Braves ran the gamut. But, those left on the ice never caved, especially goalie Logan Spagnuolo.
“We work a fair amount on penalty killing, but you have to get great goaltending,” said Daury. “If you look at Logan Spagnuolo tonight, I can think of at least two or three great saves in that four-minute penalty kill. They easily could’ve scored there.”
Wahconah fired right back to open the second, getting a goal at 12:53 from Corbin Rumbolt, courtesy of a big takeaway from Hoby MacWhinnie.
“We let it get to our heads that we were up in the game. We captains had to focus to calm everyone down and start working our systems more and keep playing how we should,” said Gian.
Clinging to a 3-2 edge midway through the second, Taconic brilliantly killed a four-minute major. Then, half a minute after Crocker got back on the ice, he and Steve Poripski were sent back for a double-minor. Already drained from the four-minute penalty kill, the Braves were unable to hold off Orlandi and the Warriors relentless attack.
The big senior plowed his way to the net again and again, peppering Spagnuolo with flicks and slaps. Eventually, a series of passes from MacWhinnie and Mitch Andrews broke through to Orlandi for the power play goal to even it at three with 1:49 to play. The shot was a clean scoop and flip that popped the back of the net out beautifully.
Peaslee, who was setting the tone all night, from his two scores to a handful of flattening hits, got whistled for a roughing penalty that would linger into the early stages of the third.
“Brandon is a big, strong kid, so we want to encourage that big, tough, strong play, just within the confines of the game,” said Daury. “You’re going to see that get better and better. There is nobody who shoots the puck harder and he’s got a great aptitude. When he plays with discipline, the rest of the team feeds off that from our seniors and leaders.”
That was where the mistakes ended for the visitors, though. Not long after he cleared the box, Taconic got its go-ahead goal from Ryan Polastri on an assist from who else, Peaslee. The young wing found an opening and fired a shot from the right end line at 10:41.
“Whenever I look at him I never know what to expect. I can see love, hate, fire, I can see what that mood is when he walks in the door,” said Gian, a cousin and football teammate of Peaslee’s. “Today was positive talking to him and that really changed our game. He came out strong and two goals, he definitely helped us.”
From there, the Braves just had to kill one more penalty, at 6:20, and then milk out the game’s remainder, sealing a thrilling win and their third consecutive victory.