WORCESTER-North Middlesex brought the same grit that got them to the postseason into their Division 3A CMass. District quarterfinal tilt with Grafton-Blackstone Valley, but they came up on the short end of a 5-3 decision.
The Patriots trudged through the latter half of the season, and made the playoffs on the final day by notching a 0-0 draw with Oakmont. North Middlesex was the seventh, and final team , but they proved to many that they were much stronger than a seven-seed.
Patriots' forward, Josh Miller coaxed home a pair of goals in the loss. North Middlesex goaltender Ryan Twomey had an impressive night in the cage corralling 31 saves. Defensemen Jay Cobleigh, and P.J. Dupre made some crucial defensive plays, which kept the Patriots within striking distance.
When the two teams met in January, the result was the same, 5-3 in favor of the Indians. North Middlesex head coach Mike McCarthy knew it was going to be a grind it out game against Grafton/BVT.
"Sometimes you tip your cap," said McCarthy. "They were able to play one goal better than us tonight. Hats off to them, and good luck to them(Grafton) in the tournament."
Grafton/Blackstone Valley held a distinct edge in the face-offs won category, outdrawing the Patriots 28-14 in the circle. The Patriots had limited chances on goal in the first period, as the Indians seized a 6-3 shot advantage.
Grafton/BVT cashed in on one of their first period opportunities with 10:49 remaining in the period. Senior forward Mike Palmer gathered a North Middlesex turnover, and poked the garbage through Twomey's five goal to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
North Middlesex came out of the dressing room in the second period down a goal with their spirits held high. The Patriots have been known for their never say quit attitude throughout the course of the season, and they kept up with that mantra Wednesday night.
North Middlesex junior forward Danny McNamara showed great hustle and determination when he picked off an errant pass at center ice, advanced it up to Estella, who found a cutting Miller for a nice wrister stick-side with 12:39 left in the second period.
The Indians returned the favor less than a minute later with a Pat Lorden power play goal top-shelf blocker side off a brilliant centering pass by Mike Moran, to make it 2-1. North Middlesex had a Miller shot cross the goal line off an excellent feed from Brett Estrella, but it was disallowed as the net appeared to have become dislodged.
McNamara blasted a shot on goal that caromed off of Grafton goaltender Sean Pratt, to the waiting stick of Miller, who sent the puck squealing in the back of the mesh to tie the game at 2-2 with 6:49 left to go in the second frame. Grafton-BVT would recapture the lead on a bang-bang play from Palmer, and Lorden.
Palmer cranked a shot in from the point, and Lorden peppered the rebound home, to seize a slim 3-2 Indian lead with 3:54 left to go before intermission. Grafton would add another goal before the period came to a close, when Cory Hetu redirected a Moran blue line howitzer, for the power play tally to give the Indians a 4-2 lead, as the second period came to a close.
North Middlesex came out of the locker room hungrier than a pack of wild dogs on a fresh steak. The Patriots battled valiantly, making every second all the more tense for the N.M. supporters.
North Middlesex sophomore forward, Ryan McCarthy pressured the puck at neutral ice, and was rewarded with an Indians' turnover. McCarthy took the puck, and tucked it top-shelf over the blocker of Pratt, to make it a one goal game, 4-3.
The final thirty seconds felt like an eternity as the Patriots continued to successfully ice the puck to delay the empty-net demoralizer. North Middlesex put six shots on goal in the final seconds, but Palmer coaxed home the empty netter with five seconds left to dispatch the Patriots.
North Middlesex finishes their season at 8-9-4, but it was a year to be proud of for the Patriots and their first year head coach.
"We didn't play many guys tonight," said McCarthy. "We played 11 guys tonight; it was a very short bench tonight. They were the same as far as line changes go, but they battled through."
North Middlesex returns much of this season's district qualifying team as they graduate captains Estrella and Will Faulkner, along with senior Robert Haluska.