After two straight dominating State Tournament victories, the Watertown High School boys hockey team found itself in a dogfight with Grafton/Blackstone Valley Tech on Saturday night. The Raiders prevailed 2-1, and will head to the MIAA Div. 4 Final Four.
When asked what put Watertown over the top in the State Tournament game at John Ryan Arena, Head Coach John Vlachos said, “Will.”
“The boys wanted to go to the Final Four. There was a trophy in the house. I think we were ready to play,” Vlachos said. “You are not going to beat every team 8-0, 8-1.”
Assistant Coach Tom Johnson said the Raiders were fortunate to finish the first period scoreless.
“I thought that was key — even though I thought they out played us at times — coming out of that not down by a goal,” Johnson said. “They probably had as good scoring chances as we did, and it was a wake up call. The first two games were lopsided (12-0 and 8-1).”
Early in the second period, Watertown’s power play unit got a chance, and junior Mauricio Souza scored less than minute into the period. He was assisted by sophomore James Erickson and senior Nathan Master.
The Raiders’ struck with another power play goal with 6:03 left in the second when sophomore Alec Banosian scored off a pass from senior Mason Andrade.
Late in the second, Grafton cut the lead in half, when Zack Baker scored tapped in a puck during a scrum in front of the Watertown net with 58 seconds left. Nick Gouveia and John DeFonzo assisted.
The visitors almost scored again in the last minute of the second, but the Raiders went to the locker room with a one-goal lead.
Neither team scored in the third, but Grafton had its chances, including two power plays, one of which came with 2:06 left in the game.
Vlachos said the play late in the periods helped the Raiders triumph Saturday night.
“The second period, we had that last minute. That was game changer. And we had to kill the penalty in the third period,” Vlachos said. “The boys did it. They killed a couple penalties in the third period. I thought the power play played well, the penalty kill played really well, our goalie played good, defense and forwards— it really was a team effort.”
The Raiders have come a long way since dropping the varsity for a year due to lack of players, and now playing berth in the State Final at the TD Garden.
“It’s awesome. The first time for Tommy and I. We have been together for five years,” Vlachos said. “We took over when it was the JV program and then we went back to varsity, so it has been — I don’t want to say long — but it’s been a nice journey. I think we all had this plan at some point that we were going to get to this point.”
Johnson said that Vlachos talked early this season about making a run at the title.
“At the beginning of the year, I remember you saying, ‘We’re going to the Garden this year! We’re going to the Garden. This is our year’” Johnson said. “I was like, we have some steps to do.”
Before the Raiders can skate at the Garden, they will have to face Middlesex League rival Stoneham in the Final Four. The game will be played at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena on Monday, March 14 at 5:30 p.m.
The teams split their games during the regular season.
“They know us. We know them,” Vlachos said. “It’s going to come down to the team who doesn’t make the most mistakes, who can stay out of the penalty box, and can capitalize on the scoring chances.”