This has already been a stellar season for the Reading High boys’ hockey team: The Rockets entered Tuesday’s regular-season finale against Arlington riding a 14-game winning streak.
Coach Mark Doherty’s 15-1-5 squad has not lost since a 2-0 blanking by BC High Dec. 29 at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
But the Rockets are shooting for a special ending.
Each of the last two seasons, Reading has been eliminated early in the state tournament, a 1-0 loss to Wakefield in the Division 1 quarterfinals in 2011, followed by a 3-1 first-round defeat to Acton-Boxborough last season. And those losses still resonate with the 17 seniors on this year’s squad.
“It really hits you hard,” said senior captain Rob Devaney , who added to his team-leading point total with the go-ahead goal with three minutes left in Saturday’s hard-earned 3-1 win at Wilmington.
“Realizing this is our last chance to go for it really sets in with us and we’re ready for it,” said the 5-foot-8 right wing.
A team that often flies under the radar, Reading is eyeing one of the 10 slots for the Super 8 tournament when state tourney pairings are announced Saturday.
After being challenged by one of the toughest schedules in the state, the Rockets believe that they are more than just contenders.
“We’ve played some of the best, and I’ve seen a lot of teams. They’re pretty good,” said Doherty of his team’s chances at landing a spot.
Is Reading a Super 8 team?
“Yes,” replied Doherty. “We’ve been real confident as of late. We had a couple bumps along the road, but we’ve come through it. I think we’ve finally found our identity as a team.”
That emergence of a team identity could not have come at a better time. The Rockets may not win many style points, and they may not be as polished as many top teams.
Wilmington coach Steve Scanlon said they “throw their weight around, and it takes a toll over three periods.
“They’ve got seniors in that fourth line,” Scanlon said. “You don’t run into that often. It was a handful.”
“We’re a bunch of big, strong, older kids,” said Reading senior forward Ryan Thomson , praised by Doherty as one of his hardest workers. “We like to take advantage of it.”
Devaney added: “We’re not going to get pretty goals. We’ve just got big guys going hard to the net and scoring ugly goals. That’s what gets it done.”
At the other end, the Rockets have been stingy, yielding 26 goals in 21 games.
And little by little, with its physical play, Reading wears down the opposition.
With 17 seniors, there is no shortage of experience.
“I’m just a leader among leaders,” Devaney said. “We’re all in it together. We have high expectations.”
In addition to Devaney, Thomson “commands just as much respect as anyone,” according to Doherty, and senior captain Evan Morelli provides terrific play in net.
Goalies typically are not team captains, but the experience has only benefited Morelli’s play this season. “There’s a lot of pressure,” said Morelli. “But it makes you push that much harder for your team.”
Morelli’s play and leadership, which has produced five shutouts this season, has not gone unnoticed.
“You’re a goalie for a reason — you like the spotlight,” Doherty said. “You’ve got to come through. He does.”
No matter what tourney they are selected for, the combination of leadership, experience, and the proverbial chip on its shoulder makes Reading a force to be reckoned with.
“If we want it we should be able to take it,” Thomson said. “Once we get there, it’s in our hands.”
“We’re not intimidated by anyone in the state,” said Doherty. “At all.”
Game is dedicated
to school bus driver
The Reading-Wilmington game on Saturday was dedicated to Judy Tipton Lee , a longtime bus driver for the Wildcats who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in October 2011.
Every Wilmington player wore a white game jersey detailed with a light blue ribbon and “JUDY’S WILDCATS” across the front, and the name “LEE” on the back. The team went up into the stands after the game for a photo with Lee. All proceeds from the raffles and concession sales were donated to the ALS Association in Lee’s name.
beat the numbers
It has been a rough season for the Wakefield High girls.
The Warriors started the week 5-10-3 overall. A drop in numbers left Wakefield with just 13 players on its roster.
But the Warriors have persevered. Lately, with two players sidelined with injuries, Wakefield has dressed nine skaters and two goalies, and in a matchup against Burlington, had just eight, but pulled out a 2-1 win. A 6-1 victory over Stoneham followed, then a 1-1 tie against Reading, a top team.
“They knew going in [it would be difficult] and the girls work hard, so when they get to those situations they’re still ready to go,” said coach Jack Foley. “They give us everything they’ve got.”