Friday’s game against Cumberland at Adelard Arena had been circled on the Pilgrim hockey team’s schedule for a while. It would be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal series, which Cumberland won, and a rematch of a December game, which Cumberland also won.
After two periods, it looked like the Patriots might be in for more of the same.
Then came the third period.
Behind a goal from Nick McGuirl and two from Cody Weaver, the Pats rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to beat the first-place Clippers 3-2. Ian Giuttari made 37 saves in net and Weaver scored the game-winner with 2:14 left as the Pats notched their biggest win of the year.
At 9-2-1, Pilgrim is now just one point back of Cumberland for first place in Division II-North.
“This is huge,” said Pilgrim head coach Dave Tober. “They’re all big. They’re all two points. But given the circumstances – it’s February, they’re the first place team, you’re coming up to this place – this is big. There’s a lot of work to do. They out-played us for two periods. We were choppy, a little rusty. But I really liked how we came out in the third period.”
Pilgrim carried a three-game league winning streak into Friday, but also hadn’t played in two weeks. Whether it was rust or just tough sledding against a good team, the Pats couldn’t get much going in the first two periods.
The Clippers, who were playing without leading scorer Mike Kinch, didn’t light it up either, but they broke through just before intermission. With 55 seconds left in the second period, Andrew Dulac won a battle in the corner and tucked a wraparound goal into the net for the 1-0 lead.
In the locker room, the Pats turned their attention to the final period. Strong third periods are something Pilgrim prides itself on, but they haven’t always been easy to come by this season.
“There have been plenty of times this year when we had to have a good third period, and we haven’t,” Tober said.
This would not be one of those times.
Just 45 seconds into the third period, McGuirl skated around a pair of Clippers on the right side, and with another defender still on his hip, muscled a shot toward the net and slipped it just inside the far post to tie the game.
Pilgrim kept the pressure on from there, but it was the Clippers who struck next. Just over two minutes after McGuirl’s goal, Cumberland’s Elliot Ray dug the puck out of the corner, skated to the net and stuffed it in to put the Clippers back on top.
But Pilgrim was undeterred. Twenty-six seconds after the Cumberland goal, Weaver punched in a rebound after a scramble in front of the net to tie the game again.
“We got the early goal and then we had a defensive breakdown,” Tober said. “We bailed ourselves out, which is what good teams do. When something goes wrong, good teams bail each other out.”
The Pats and Clippers traded opportunities over the next nine minutes, and Pilgrim eventually capitalized on a chance. With 2:14 left, McGuirl got possession of the puck in the corner and slipped a pass to a wide open Weaver in front. He buried the shot to make it 3-2.
“Nick went down into the corner and got the puck and gave me a perfect pass,” Weaver said. “If I missed that, it would have been embarrassing.”
Cumberland still had time and pulled its goalie with 1:27 left, but the Pats held off every charge to seal the victory.
“When it’s Pilgrim-Cumberland every game is a tight game,” Tober said. “Ties, overtime – it’s always tight between us two. We match up well. This is a real valuable two points for us.”
The Pats got it done thanks to standout performances at both ends. Offensively, Pilgrim’s top line rose to the occasion, delivering all three goals. Weaver’s linemates McGuirl and Ryan Oatley assisted on both of his goals.
“That’s their job and they know it,” Tober said. “That’s not to say the other line’s job isn’t putting pucks in the net, but when you’ve got guys with offensive ability like that, their role is to score goals. We don’t expect anything less. We count on them. We challenge the other team to stop them. More times than not, they haven’t really been stopped.”
At the other end, Giuttari had perhaps his best game of the season in net. Cumberland out-shot Pilgrim by four, but Giutarri was up to the task.
“He was outstanding,” Tober said. “Outside of the first game against Coventry, it’s probably the best I’ve seen him play. He gave up two but they were on a couple of bad defensive breakdowns. He had a ton of saves. He was confident, really good on his angles, getting rebounds out of there. He played great.”
The result was the team’s biggest win yet, but the Pats are hoping it’s just a start. They have six league games remaining, a stretch that includes another game against Cumberland and two against Coventry, who’s tied for second with the Pats.
Pilgrim has games Friday and Saturday against North Smithfield and Ponaganset. Both are at Thayer Arena at 9:30 p.m.
“It’s a good win against a very good team,” Tober said. “We’ll build off it, and get back practice to Monday. This is the time we want to be playing good hockey, and this is a good place to start.”