With Boston Latin in control of the Merrimack Valley Conference/Dual County League Division 2 title race, and a state tournament berth already tucked safely into his own team's pocket, all Tewksbury High hockey coach Derek Doherty wants is for his team to continue to build positive momentum over the final week of the regular season.
Thanks to a strong goaltending performance from freshman netminder Kyle Paquette and yet another multiple goal game from junior forward Derek Petti, Doherty got just what he was looking for Saturday night as the Redmen came up with one of their strongest efforts of the season and beat MVC/DCL Division 2 rival Lincoln-Sudbury, 3-1 at the Breakaway Ice Center.
"We've been playing pretty good the last couple of games," Doherty said. "We're really starting to put the puck in the net. That's as good a team as we've beat this year. That was right up there with the Billerica win."
Petti scored his 26th goal of the season with just 1.7 seconds left in the first period to steal the momentum from Lincoln-Sudbury and spark his team to life. The Redmen had come out sluggish in the game's opening minutes, but Petti's unassisted tally changed all that.
"It helps a lot when you can get a late goal like that," Doherty said. "We were sloppy and slow in the first period, but we played much better in the second and third."
Freshman Ryan Meade notched his first career varsity goal to make it 2-0 with just over two minutes left in the second period. Alex Hamilton and Shannon Alukonis assisted. But Lincoln-Sudbury would not go away easily as the Warriors closed to within a goal less than a minute after Meade's tally.
The third period was all about Tewksbury, however, as the Redmen repeatedly swarmed the visitors' net and Petti put the game out of reach with an unassisted, short-handed goal at the 12:49 mark.
Petti, who lit the lamp four times in Wednesday night's 6-0 win over Haverhill, has now scored 10 goals in his last four games. With one regular season game to play, the TMHS sharp-shooter has notched 27 goals and six assists, ranking second in the league behind Boston Latin senior Conal Lynch.
"Derek has had a great season," Doherty said. "His numbers put him right up there with the best this program has ever seen."
Doherty was also impressed with the play of Paquette, the freshman netminder whose first-period play kept the Redmen in a 0-0 deadlock until their offense came alive. Paquette has compiled a .930 save percentage to go along with 1.55 goals against average, playing in all 19 games this year.
"He's done everything we've asked him to," Doherty said of Paquette. "He's getting better and better. He's comfortable now. The older kids have been very supportive of him. Any nervousness he's had is over with now."
The win improves Tewksbury's record to 12-3-4 overall. The Redmen finished their MVC/DCL Division 2 schedule unbeaten at 6-0-4, and secured second place behind Boston Latin (7-0-3) with the win over Lincoln-Sudbury. Latin clinched the division title Saturday night with a 3-0 win at Concord-Carlisle.
More important, the defending Division 2 state champion Redmen are getting hot at the right time of the season, having gone 4-1-3 over the last month. Over the past eight days, Tewksbury has now won three straight games, by a combined total score of 16-2.
"I think we're going in the right direction, for sure," Doherty said. "I don't want to say we're ready because you can talk to the kids and do Xs and Os all you want, but they've got to go out there and outwork the other team every night. You have to beat the other team to the puck and play physical. When these kids come and play physical and they beat guys to the puck, we can beat anybody."
The Redmen wrap up their regular season on Wednesday with an 8:00 p.m. showdown against arch-rival Wilmington at the Breakaway Ice Center. The Wildcats will bring a 10-4-5 record into the game.
"Wilmington is going to be tough," Doherty said. "It will be a good test for us before the tournament."
State tournament pairings will be announced next Saturday, with preliminary round games beginning on February 27th.