Nantucket knew that if they wanted to advance to the state’s boys hockey quarterfinals Monday night, they would need to be disciplined and opportunistic against a skilled Abington Green Wave team. The Whalers and Green Wave found themselves in a tight game after one period of play, but Nantucket ultimately pulled away and won the game 6-2.
With Monday’s win, the Whalers have earned the opportunity to host a state quarterfinal game for the first time in program history. This will be the second consecutive season Nantucket competes at this stage of the tournament.
“I thought our effort was unreal,” Whaler junior center Ryan Davis said after the game. “That was the most disciplined we have played all season. I thought we killed it out there and we kept moving our feet while playing physical out there like our coaches asked us to do.”
Nantucket came out sharp to begin the game and finally drew first blood off a shot from the point by junior defenseman Hunter Strojny, which was tipped by senior captain Jack Billings to give the Whalers a 1-0 lead with 6:22 left in the opening period.
But the Green Wave didn’t back down. Senior captain Spencer Merrick was fabulous in net, making several high-quality stops on Whaler chances. He faced 38 shots on the night in total while the Green Wave only tallied 21.
But shortly after Billing's goal the Green Wave were able to draw a pair of penalties, which allowed their power play to go to work. The first power play was a two-minute minor, which Nantucket killed off. But shortly after, the Whalers were assessed a five-minute major penalty for boarding.
Abington had a golden opportunity to score the equalizer goal and did just that thanks to a goal by junior defenseman Zach Buccigross with 1:02 remaining in the first period. This tied the game 1-1, and Abington still had 2:53 of power play time remaining.
The Whalers entered the dressing room tied 1-1 but knew they had an enormous penalty kill ahead of them to begin the first 1:41 of the second period.
That is when Davis decided to take matters into his own hands. Head coach Jack Moran said Davis told the team he was scoring a shorthanded goal before they took the ice and during his first shift he certainly looked like a man on a mission with a tremendous individual effort that ultimately led to a massive goal while a man down to give Nantucket a 2-1 lead 21 seconds into the period and swing momentum back in Nantucket's favor.
“We were in the locker room and knew we needed a goal, so I just looked at Jack (Billings) and said ‘yo, a goal would be nice right here,’” Davis said. “That was a big goal for our team. I was just trying to do my part. I thought everyone played great. This was a total team effort and win.”
From there it was all Nantucket. The Whalers made it 3-1 less than two minutes later when senior forward Curren Hatch scored his second tournament goal in as many games. Then with just under four minutes to play in the second period it was Davis again scoring off an assist from junior defenseman Michael Culkins to give Nantucket a 4-1 lead. The Whalers took that three goal advantage into the second intermission.
With 9:42 left in the third period, Strojny had possession of the puck in the offensive zone and ripped a wrist shot past Merrick to make it 5-1 Nantucket. He followed it with an enthusiastic celebration and the goal was the cherry on top of a performance that was Strojny's best to date in his varsity hockey career.
“Our coaches came into the locker room saying we can’t take penalties or we will lose the game,” Strojny said. “We listened and it paid off. It felt good to get that goal there. I don’t even know what was going through my mind I was just trying to get the fans hyped. I skated over there, slid on the ice, jumped into the boards, and tried to get them rowdy.”
After the Whalers took a four-goal lead, the approach was all about game management and good discipline. Nantucket strategically milked minutes off of the clock while Abington continued to battle and attempt to get themselves back in the game.
But each time Abington had a good scoring opportunity, junior goalie Griffin Starr was there to make the stop for the Whalers. Starr has blossomed into one of Nantucket’s best players and Strojny said after the game he makes it much easier for the entire team to play a relaxed style of hockey in a big game atmosphere.
“It makes us feel so much better to know we have Griff back there,” Strojny said. “Back when Griff was just starting, we were a little scared when the other team was on a breakaway but now we couldn’t feel anymore confident that he is going to make that stop. He is a great goalie.”
What makes Starr so good? Strojny said the answer is simple.
“His work ethic,” Strojny said. “He is always at the rink on time. He is always giving 110 percent on every play. He is an amazing teammate.”
“He is always there when you need him,” Davis said.
Abington got one back with 59 seconds to go in the game to make it a 5-2 game. It was junior left winger Hunter Grafton who scored the goal. Grafton was one of Abington’s best players in this game per usual. His speed stood out and he finished the night with two points after assisting on the Green Wave’s first goal as well.
Junior center Colby O’Keefe iced the game with 33.9 seconds to go to make it 6-2.
“This group has really come a long way,” Moran said. “They understand the importance of staying on the ice, particularly in this game. It was made very well known to every one of them that if anybody gets a dumb penalty or is mouthing off or retaliating or anything that will cost this team, you are going to sit. And if I have to sit you and it costs your team the game, then you are going to have to explain to every single one of them why you did it and what is more important to you.”
Davis finished the game with two goals and an assist. Strojny and O’Keefe each finished with one goal and two assists.
Nantucket will now host the #19 seeded Amesbury Red Hawks on Thursday, March 9 at 5:15 p.m. Amesbury is coming off an impressive upset win over #3 Winthrop 4-3 in overtime in the Sweet 16 and beat #14 Assabet Valley RVT 7-4 in the Round of 32.
“We just need to play like we did today and we will beat them,” Davis said of the upcoming matchup against Amesbury.