FITCHBURG -- North Middlesex's hockey team is the type of group who has the talent to be something special, but they just cannot string it together for a full game. The Patriots fell to the Grafton/Blackstone Valley Indians 5-3, marking their fourth straight loss since Dec. 22.
Danny McNamara continues to be the go-getter for the Patriots, as he recorded an assist and two goals in the Pats' loss. The Patriots had their backs against the wall, down 4-1 coming into the third period. North Middlesex knocked home two goals late in the third and narrowly tied it with under a minute left.
Though North Middlesex came up short, Patriots head coach Michael McCarthy believes there are still some positives to take away from Saturday's performance.
"We have been a team who hasn't scored more than one goal in any game we played, with the exception of the Assabet game," said McCarthy. "It was nice when we were down 4-1 and we kept fighting."
Grafton/Blackstone Valley center Mike Morin stole the show, recording a hat trick, which led to an early exit by Patriots goaltender Ryan Twomey.
Morin's first goal came off the draw to the right of the Patriots' goal. Morin won the faceoff and passed the puck to Mike Palmer, who directed it back to Morin for the wrist shot left side, making the score 1-0 at 5:30 of the first period.
North Middlesex skated into the offensive zone and Mike Carson lofted a blue line wrister into the air. Indians goaltender Sean Pratt
Morin put on an absolute clinic, as the Patriots' game-planned around his linemate, Palmer. Grafton/Blackstone Valley knifed through the usually stout Patriots' defense with precision and rang off shot after shot on Twomey.
Palmer cranked a slapper that was batted away by Twomey, then Eric Adams tried his luck and was turned away. Twomey, however, was unable to ice the puck, which gave Morin the chance to pick up the garbage and deposit it in the back of the net with 4:46 remaining in the first period.
North Middlesex's defensemen began to settle in as the period waged on, and the Patriots were able to convert with less than a minute left.
North Middlesex's first-liners skated furiously into the slot, and Ryan McCarthy scooted a pass to McNamara, who wristed the shot in traffic from the right side to bring the Pats within one at 2-1 with 42 seconds remaining.
The Indians came out of the dressing room after the first intermission poised to extend their lead. They wasted no time getting on the scoreboard again at 1:03 of the second period, when Jared Vandenias collected a rebound in the slot and flicked it home to push the Indians' lead back to two, 3-1.
Grafton/Blackstone Valley continued to pepper Twomey. Morin glided across neutral ice and set up shop on the right side of the net as the Indians offense came barreling in on goal.
Lorden cranked a wrister that was knocked down by Twomey and skidded to the stick of Morin, who quickly lifted it under the arm of Twomey from the right side to extend the Indians lead to 4-1 at 7:35 of the second period. North Middlesex was determined to make a game of it and not be embarrassed on their home ice. The Patriots outshot the Indians 14-2 in the third period.
North Middlesex wore out the ice in their offensive zone and cashed in at 11:30 of the third period when McNamara connected on a wrist shot from P.J. Dupre that curved by Pratt to bring the Pats within two, 4-2. Grafton/Blackstone Valley called a timeout to regroup and the Patriots benefited from the extra rest.
North Middlesex dug deep and put another one by Pratt with 1:41 left in regulation, when McNamara scored despite a pileup in front of the net. McCarthy picked up his second assist of the contest, as McNamara kept pecking away at the puck until it squeaked across the goal line, bringing the Patriots within striking distance at 4-3.
The Patriots called timeout with 26.1 seconds remaining and tried to set up a play from the faceoff circle to the right of Pratt. North Middlesex fed McNamara from the left side, but his shot from the point was punched away by Pratt. Grafton/Blackstone Valley's Corey Hetu provided the dagger with an empty-netter with six seconds left. The Pats outshot the Indians 30-23.
"We have to learn how to put 45 minutes of hockey together," said McCarthy. "Today, realistically, we were lucky if we put 30 minutes together. We left Twomey out to dry multiple times today with their top-end goal scorers; they made him pay the price."