If you weren’t at the Nantucket Ice Community Rink Wednesday evening to watch Nantucket and Nauset’s boys hockey teams battle it out, you missed out.
On the back of six goals from six different goal scorers, the Whaler boys hockey team defeated a talented Nauset Warriors squad 6-4 in a thrilling Cape & Islands showdown that featured four lead changes, dazzling goals, and bone crunching hits. The gutsy win improved Nantucket’s record to 1-1 while they exhibited the moxie, grit, and resilience of a true contender.
“We played so hard, so strong. They did everything they had to do. Every single thing we asked them to do, they did it and then plus some,” Nantucket head coach Jack Moran said. “I mean they're sacrificing bodies out there. We had a couple of guys that took some big hits, but they went right back out there and started to crush it. It was absolutely phenomenal to watch. The refs told us ‘That was a playoff game.’ It was a playoff game.”
Nantucket got on the scoreboard first thanks to senior center Colby O’Keefe when sophomore winger Jeremy Jenkinson found the senior pivot in front of the net to make it 1-0 2:56 into the game.
The game remained 1-0 going into the first intermission, but injuries became an issue the Whalers had to deal with for the second half of the opening frame.
Nantucket lost Jenkinson for the final 10 minutes of the first period following a huge open ice hit that resulted in a laceration to his forehead that will require stitches – however Jenkinson patched it up and returned to begin the second period.
Senior assistant captain Michael Culkins took an ugly check to the head midway through the period that drew a two-minute minor. While he was forced to miss the final seven minutes of the period as he underwent tests and safety protocols, he eventually passed them all and was able to return at the start of the second period.
Losing both of these core players required Nantucket’s depth pieces to step in and play important minutes to preserve the 1-0 lead, which they did.
Nauset, who scored five straight goals in their 7-3 victory over the Sandwich Blue Knights on Dec. 9 came out with an expected push to begin the second period.
Led by their superstar center Logan Poulin, the Warriors showed their ability to score quickly and often to begin the second period when Poulin scored the equalizer 17 seconds in and then a power play goal to give the Warriors a 2-1 lead with 10:18 left in the second period.
But the Whalers bounced back admirably.
O’Keefe found sophomore forward Canton Jenkinson in the front of the net on an odd-man rush and Jenkinson buried the biscuit with 6:14 to go in the second period to tie the game 2-2.
Less than two minutes later it was Culkins making nothing into something by carrying the puck out of his own zone, through the neutral zone, and zipped past a trio of Warrior skaters to set up a breakaway chance he was able to stuff past Nauset goalie Zach Coelho to give Nantucket a 3-2 lead they’d take into the final period.
Culkins played like a man on a mission Wednesday, and he said after the game he took the high hit personally.
“I mean they hit me and at first I was dizzy and I had a lot of pain in my jaw but I wanted to come back in. They made me wait until the next period while I got checked out (by the trainer) but I was like ‘no, I want to be out there. It’s a close game. It’s back and forth. I need to be out there,” Culkins said with a bag of ice pressed against his jaw. “But the hit motivated me more honestly. It made me skate harder. I wasn’t going to let them slide with that hit and we needed some hard skating out there, so I tried to step up.”
"He is a force to be reckoned with that kid,” Moran said of Culkins. “He is an absolute monster no matter what you ask him to do. He just rises to the occasion every time.”
But Nauset did what good teams do and continued to battle back against Nantucket. The game was far from over.
Junior forward Colin Ward scored 2:21 into the third period to make it a 3-3 game. Then assistant captain and senior forward Aaron Howard scored on a power play with 7:14 remaining in the game to make it 4-3 Warriors.
Nantucket got a power play opportunity nine seconds after Howard gave Nauset their lead and while the Warriors killed it off, the Whalers tied the game again after sophomore defenseman Soren Edwardes let a shot go from the point that was redirected in front – possibly by Canton Jenkinson – to tie the game 4-4 with 4:47 left in regulation (official scoresheet gave Edwardes the goal).
“Every single one of those kids that went on that ice today, they played so hard because they knew the importance of this game. We had to put a good show on for this game. I'm so proud of them,” Moran said.
Nauset got a power play opportunity with 3:49 left in the final period following an undisciplined penalty from senior defenseman Hunter Strojny. On a night where Nantucket showed great poise and discipline, a lesson can be learned that even one slip up can have consequences and make an otherwise well-behaved night moot. This penalty gave a powerful Nauset power play a chance to take a one goal lead late in regulation.
But not all mistakes are punished. Despite several high-quality scoring chances, the Warriors were turned away each time by Nantucket’s senior captain and goalie Griffin Starr – who finished the evening with 20 saves.
The game-winner came with just 1:12 remaining in the game off the stick of assistant captain and senior center Ryan Davis, who scored on a soft backhanded toss that had eyes. Senior left-wing Braden Knapp sealed the game with an empty net goal with 29 seconds left in the game.
Moran gave credit to the conditioning his team routinely goes through for their strong third period. He said his team’s shot first mentality on Wednesday was also key and something the entire coaching staff has been drilling into their heads this week.
Culkins said a win like this can go a long way towards building momentum and giving a team confidence moving forward.
“I mean this is great. We haven't beat Nauset in a while so this really motivates the team, hopefully starts up a streak for us,” Culkins said. “This is great to see. Now people got expectations for the team. I got expectations for how our team is going to be playing in the future. I can tell the boys are going to be great.”
O’Keefe finished the night with a game-high three points (one goal, two assists). Canton Jenkinson and Knapp had one goal and one assist each. Edwardes, Culkins, and Davis each had one goal. Jeremy Jenkinson had one assist.
As for Nauset, Poulin finished with two goals and an assist for his own three-point night. Ward finished with one goal and one assist. Howard finished with one goal. Zach Weiner and Andrew Bohannon finished with one assist each.
The Whalers will look to improve to 2-1 on Saturday, December 16 when they travel to Martha’s Vineyard to take on the Vineyarders at 1 p.m. You can view Nantucket’s full schedule by clicking here.