The Waltham-Billerica rivalry may not be considered one of the best in the state, but over the last 20 years or so the two teams have quickly built quite a bit of animosity towards one another.
The rivalry was renewed on Wednesday night in front of a pretty large crowd at the Hallenborg Pavilion with sole possession of first place in the MVC/DCL 1 on the line.
Behind 25 saves from senior Jack Perry and a second period shorthanded goal for junior Kevin Dann, the Hawks were able to sneak out a 1-0 win.
Waltham is now 3-1-1 overall and 3-0-0 in the conference. Billerica got a 20-save performance from junior Ethan Cliff, but falls to 3-3-0 overall and 2-2-0 in the conference.
“It’s a league game, our third league win, we’re working hard,” said Waltham head coach John Maguire. “We were excellent on the penalty kill tonight, the shorthanded goal was a great goal by Kevin and obviously Jack did what he does. Our four defenseman Justin and Evan Cormier, Paul Leonelli and Cody Eaton all played well too. It was a good team effort overall.”
Wednesday night’s game was also significant for the Hawks for a much bigger reason than hockey. January 5th marked the one year anniversary of senior captain Paul Leonelli’s father passing away, so getting one of their brothers a win on such an emotional night was crucial as well.
“Emotional night for us,” Maguire added. “Paul Leonelli’s dad passed away a year ago today, so we were honoring his memory and for Paul to play a great game too as a captain, that was to me, the highlight, seeing him celebrate with his teammates.”
Perry saved Waltham in the first with nine stops. Late in the frame, the Hawks were called for a trip and hold on the same play, giving Billerica a 5-on-3 that extended for over a minute into the second. Waltham was able to thwart that advantage, but a cross check early on in the second put the Hawks right back on the PK.
Dann ended up creating a turnover and raced in all alone on Cliff. Dann faked forehand then roofed a backhand for the shorthanded goal and 1-0 lead with 11:03 left in the frame. Stunningly, the Hawks ended up with three power plays in the frame – including one after Perry got hit behind his net, nearly starting a brawl – but Waltham couldn’t get anything past Cliff on any of the man advantages.
“This game is huge to me, it was my actual first varsity game my freshman year,” said Perry when asked about the rivalry with Billerica. “I was able to get a win against these guys (that night) and they’re a good team, a competitive team that plays hard. We always try to keep it a respectful rivalry and we just went out today, did a good job penalty killing, got a shorthanded goal and kept them off the board.”
Perry stopped a Will Egan breakaway with 10:16 left to preserve the one-goal lead and Cliff responded moments later with a fantastic 2-on-1 stop of his own. With 1:14 to go Cliff was pulled for the extra attacker but as they did all night, Waltham’s defense held strong and eventually celebrated an important early season win.
“This is a huge win for us,” Perry said. “We want to keep this going into tomorrow at practice. We’ve had a couple good practices here, guys have been going good and we obviously just want to keep the momentum rolling.”