The Nantucket boys hockey team has shown incredible resilience all season long overcoming injuries and absences from their lineup. They had won 11 of their first 15 games and 11 of their last 12. They hadn't lost a game since Jan. 7, a 3-2 overtime loss at home to Martha's Vineyard.
On Monday they welcomed one of the top teams in Div. 3, the Nauset Warriors (12-5), and were unable to win with a shorthanded lineup. The Whalers lost 4-1 and are now 11-5 this season.
"We said listen you guys are tanked. We ask an awful lot out of you and you guys delivered as much as you humanly could have," head coach Jack Moran said. "We kept it a game for a while. When Ben (Freeman) went down (with an injury) we said 'okay we are going to need to slide things around a little bit.'"
The Whalers went into the game with nine skaters (six forwards and three defenseman) seeing ice time. Freeman was in the Whaler's top six filling in for freshman Jeremy Jenkinson, who was scoring at a point per game pace before suffering an injury last month, and Freeman had been doing an admirable job in that role.
But when the freshman forward suffered an injury of his own on his first shift of the game, it left Nantucket down to just five forwards and three defenseman. The defense core was also shorthanded as their top defenseman, junior Michael Culkins, remains out of the lineup.
But it isn't in the Whaler's DNA to give up or play with little confidence no matter the circumstance. Nantucket was still able to give Nauset all they could handle in the first period. Nantucket controlled the play and had several quality offensive scoring opportunities in the game's first 10 minutes, but the Warrior's freshman netminder Arthur Figueiredo stood tall and made some excellent saves.
The Whalers were outshooting the Warriors 6-3 in those first 10 minutes of the game, but the Warriors got a couple of power play chances to close the period out following some bad penalties taken on the part of Nantucket that they simply couldn't afford to take.
Nauset scored on the first one to make it 1-0 with 3:33 to go in the period. They got another man advantage just seconds after but were unable to convert thanks to some strong penalty killing by the Whalers and solid goaltending by junior Griffin Starr.
Then with 1:27 to go in the first, Nauset drew a third power play chance that was killed off by Nantucket.
"We had some penalty trouble," Moran said. "They scored two of their three goals while they were on the power play. We know we can't play in the box. We have to get out of the box."
Nantucket was still very much in the game after killing the final 33 seconds of the Warrior's power play to begin the second period down only 1-0. But sophomore Logan Poulin, who came into the game with 40 points in 16 games for Nauset, changed that with an excellent individual effort where he raced up the ice and past a pair of Nantucket players before feeding a perfect cross-ice pass to center Logan Valine to extend their lead to 2-0 with 11:19 to go in the second.
For the next 10 minutes, the game was back and forth with teams trading shot for shot. The Whalers and Warriors ended the period with Nauset's shot advantage just 8-7, but the scoring chances and shots being produced by the Warriors were much more dangerous and higher quality than the ones Nantucket was getting, which mainly came from the outside with very little traffic in front of Figueiredo.
Nauset found themselves on another power play in the final four minutes of the second period and center Cam Connery gave Nauset a 3-0 lead with 2:36 to go. That score would stand going into the second intermission and the Warriors suddenly found themselves in firm control of the game and 15 minutes away from a major win.
The final period was scoreless up until the final two minutes when Colby O'Keefe scored for the Whalers to make it a 3-1 game with 1:05 to go.
Nauset, desperate to win by three and help their state tournament rating, responded well and scored with 17 seconds to go to make it a 4-1 game. It was senior assistant captain Dan Deering who scored off an assist from Poulin. Deering has been a Whaler killer for years and in his final game against Nantucket, he delivered the final blow.
"After Hunter (Strojny, junior defenseman) went out we had six guys for those final seven minutes of the game," Moran said. "You can't compete with that. No matter how hard you try, you just can't do it. That was the first time I saw our guys just not have anything left."
"You can only ask so much of them. I thought they played well. I am really proud of them."
Starr has been stellar for Nantucket all season, and he was once again very efficient in net on Monday finishing the game with 23 saves. He made some excellent saves to keep Nantucket in the game and bail out some tired forwards and defensemen on the ice.
"Griffin, as always, when they are getting around our guys he is the last line of defense and very solid," Moran said. "He plays a great game. I am never disappointed in his performance. He is dialed in. There is only so much he can do."
The MIAA released their updated power rankings on Tuesday and the Whalers remain the #5 seed in the Div. 4 state tournament rankings, but lost some ground to #4 Grafton. They appear to be in firm control of that spot barring some unexpected poor play down the stretch with three games remaining and they should instead have an opportunity to move up to that #4 spot if they can have good showings in each of those matchups.
"Listen, we just get right back on the train again," Moran said. "It is just one loss and we have had a lot of wins. I am not disappointed in their performance by any means. Michael will be a huge help when he comes back, hopefully in a week."
The Whaler's next game will be Monday, February 20 when they travel to the Gallo Arena in Bourne for round one of the Jeff Hayes Memorial Hockey Tournament. They will play Auburn/Millbury (11-6) at 4 p.m.
NANTUCKET POINT LEADERS THROUGH 2/13/23
1) Ryan Davis, Junior, 25 points (14 goals and 11 assists) in 16 games.
2) Canton Jenkinson, Freshman, 19 points (13 goals and 6 assists) in 15 games.
3) Colby O'Keefe, Junior, 18 points (7 goals and 11 assists) in 16 games
4) Braden Knapp, Junior, 14 points (7 goals and 7 assists) in 16 games.
5) Jeremy Jenkinson, Freshman, 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) in 12 games.