TOWNSEND -- When Mike McCarthy took over the head coaching job for Brendan McNabb last season, he knew he was inheriting a team that was on a upward trajectory.

What he did not know was how fast it would happen.

The North Middlesex Patriots hockey team qualified for the playoffs last year on the last day of the regular season with a 0-0 draw against Oakmont.

In 2014, that end-of-the-season drama would happen again. This time, the drama came via a coin-flip for the No. 1 overall seed in the CMass Division 3-A bracket with Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley.

North Middlesex defeated Gardner, 9-3, in the final game of the regular season, which setup the ever-so-anticipated coin-flip. North Middlesex won the tie-breaker and took the No. 1 seed with its 15-3-2 overall record.

North Middlesex met Northbridge, the No. 8 seed, in the opening round Thursday at the Wallace Civic Center. The score was unavailable at the time of publication.

"They (Northbridge) were the team that we went down two goals heading into the third period," McCarthy said. "We came out and scored two goals in the third period to tie them late. No matter who we played, there are no teams in the bracket who I said 'man, I wish we didn't have to play them.' They're all tough, you just have to play them. If you want to win the thing, you gotta win the thing."

North Middlesex has been a one-and-done participant in the CMass 3A playoffs for the past three years, but this group of Patriot skaters is among the best.

"This is our best finish in at least the past 10-plus years," he said. "15-3-2 is the record, but that goes all out the window in the playoffs. You're 0-0. Northbridge puts out a very, very tough first-line who scores a lot of points. We controlled the game against them the first time, but their goalie played out of his mind."