When Jack Connolly scored the goal in the final minute of double overtime to clinch Sandwich’s trip to TD Garden, who could have predicted it would be only the second-biggest moment the sophomore would have this week.
Connolly made sure the Blue Knights’ trip to the Division 4 state final wouldn’t come up short. With the game on his stick, again in double overtime, Connolly was denied on his first attempt at the winner, but stuck with the play and buried it 1:46 into the 3-on-3 second overtime to give #4 seed Sandwich a 3-2 win over #2 Watertown.
The winning play started when Connolly forced a turnover at the blue line as Watertown looked to move the puck out of the zone. Skating around a defender, Connolly came down the slot alone on Watertown goalie Casey Williams, but his first shot was denied and the rebound skipped over the stick of senior Caleb Richardson.
But both Richardson and Connolly stuck with the play and it was Connolly who dug the puck out of the right corner, then circled behind the net and all the way back out into the high slot. With plenty of daylight in front of him, Connolly’s second attempt was true to the top right corner, giving Sandwich its first state championship since it won Division 2 in 2008.
“I missed that first opportunity, and to be honest, I wasn’t going to pass that puck to Caleb,” Connolly said with a chuckle. “I knew I was going to score.”
Once again, Sandwich coach Jordan Mohre credited his team’s dedication to conditioning throughout the season paying off as the minutes started to pile up.
Here is Jack Connolly’s game-winner:
“We had gas left in the tank. It led us to our success,” Mohre said. “That’s what we work on every day, since the first day of tryouts, being in shape. It sounds easy, but these guys have really taken it upon themselves to compete hard against each other in practice, and then take it into games.”
Sandwich had to battle back to tie in both the first and second periods. Watertown took the lead at 10:34 of the first on the power play when Mason Andrade banged home a rebound of an Anthony Venezia shot at the left post.
The Raiders carried the play for much of the period and seemed poised to head into the locker room with the 1-0 lead. But Colin McIver had other ideas. Taking a lead pass from Kevin Jordan, McIver got free down the left side and cut in to snap one past Watertown starting goalie Jared Norton with just 8.5 seconds left in the first.
“That was huge,” McIver said. “Harley Ellis made a really good play defensively, and I came down with Jack. The defender took Jack, so I took my space and capitalized.”
Mohre even used the word “huge” twice to emphasize how big a turning point that was for his team.
“We weren’t tucking our tails between our legs, but you get one late there and it provides a little bit of a spark,” he said. “Our guys have been resilient this state tournament run. We scored a lot of goals in the last minute, 30 seconds, last 15 seconds, 10 seconds, whatever it is. And it’s hats off to the way the guys were willing to compete through the 45, 53, 61 minutes, whatever it is.”
Watertown coach John Vlachos also acknowledged how things shifted a bit after McIver’s goal.
“I would have liked to see us do a better job on that first goal with 8 seconds to go. That kind of gave them some momentum,” Vlachos said. “I felt like we kind of outplayed them, to be honest with you. We did what we needed to do, we shut down their first line. Our first line got goals. I thought our game plan was on point.”
Watertown retook the lead at 8:15 of the second when Colin Campbell was sprung on a partial breakaway, faked to the backhand and was able to flip a shot past Sandwich goalie Mitchell Norkevicius inside the right post.
But once again Sandwich responded, tying the game at 12:10 on the power play. Chris Cardillo found Richardson with a pass in the high slot, and he rifled it inside the left post.
Neither team cracked in the third period, and Mohre was confident his team was in good position after having battled through 4-on-4 and nearly all of 3-on-3 last Tuesday against Norwell in the state semifinals.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who contribute heavily in our locker room,” Mohre said. “Coming into this year we had one player, Drew MacKinnon, who had ever played in a state tournament game. And now they’re all seasoned veterans and having been able to draw on that experience, and especially the positive experience that we had against Norwell.”
“I bet we all felt more confident going into this one,” Connolly said.
Andrade had a good chance to end it for Watertown, barreling down the left wing and cutting to the net, but Norkevicius (31 saves) held his ground.
“Mitchell’s personality is the perfect goaltender’s personality. I bet you if you took his heart rate in the game, it probably never got above 85. He was really tested,” Mohre said.
“But that’s the same way he goes about his business in practice. He’s not a humongous rah-rah guy or needs the attention. He’s very focused on his craft and he goes about it in a patient way. He doesn’t overslide, he doesn’t overcommit to pucks, he just plays very, very steady and he’s got incredible ability to move about the crease.”
Moments later, Connolly got his chance – twice, and made it count. Again.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in our locker room that didn’t think we were going to win that game when we came out for that first overtime, and especially when it went to 3 on 3,” Mohre said.