FITCHBURG - The top-seeded North Middlesex Regional ice hockey team made sure there would be no upset in the Central Mass. Division 3A semifinals.
The Patriots played three very strong periods to fend off upset-minded and No. 5 seed Nashoba Regional for a sound, 2-0 victory Wednesday night at Fitchburg State University's Wallace Civic Center.
"My guys continued their hard play, what they've done all season," North Middlesex coach Mike McCarthy said. "They played a great game, and they've had a great year."
It will be a clash of the titans when the Patriots meet No. 2 Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley in the CMass. final at 6 p.m. Monday night at the Wallace Civic Center.
"They're a fun team to coach and they've earned this opportunity," McCarthy said.
The Pats couldn't be playing any better at this time of the year, either, winning their ninth straight game.
During the regular season, North Middlesex (17-3-2) beat Nashoba twice, 3-2 and 6-2 in January.
Nashoba, which rode a hot 5-0-1 stretch into the postseason, finished at 10-8-4 overall.
"We knew this was going to be a tough game," Nashoba coach Steve Kendall said. "But I'm proud of my kids. North Middlesex is a great team with a lot of speed up front, but we battled hard."
Both goalies were awesome in this one.
North Middlesex netminder Ryan Twomey made 19 saves to earn the shutout in net and propel his team into the championship game. "I'm speechless," Twomey said. "I've never been so excited in my life."
Nashoba goalie Devyn Levesque turned away a whopping 30 shots and kept his team right in the game throughout.
"He played great," Kendall said. "We needed an effort like this from him and we got it."
The top-seeded Patriots seized the quick momentum with a goal in the first minute of the game.
Only 25 seconds in, Danny McNamara popped home a backhander right in front of Levesque, assisted by Josh Miller and Ryan McCarthy, for the game's first goal.
Miller had a chance to give his team a two-goal lead, but Levesque made a great glove save with 5:59 left in the opening period.
North Middlesex's Brian Walter was also rejected on a breakaway late.
Twomey was just as good, denying Nashoba star Brad Colvin on the power play and turning away Matt LeBlanc's high-quality scoring chance.
In the second period, Nashoba came out charged up, but the Patriots wouldn't budge and countered at 7:14 to claim a two-goal lead. After Ryan McCarthy, who played an outstanding game and was all over the ice all night long, was denied on a shot in the high slot, the Pats maintained possession of the puck and eventually scored, as Miller found the back of the net, assisted by McNamara and Ryan McCarthy, for a 2-0 lead.
Ryan McCarthy came looking for more with three straight shots, but couldn't slide the puck by Levesque. McNamara had two strong chances to give the Patriots a 3-0 lead, but Levesque delivered a clutch save on a rebound and then flashed the glove skills with a leaping glove save against McNamara with 27 seconds left in the period.
"I was expecting exactly what we got from them," said Mike McCarthy, who praised the Chieftains on several occasions. Through two periods, North Middlesex held a 21-11 shots-on-net advantage.
North Middlesex's defense was exceptional in front of Twomey. PJ Dupre, Jay Cobleigh, Mike Massidda and Mark Frederick put a stranglehold on the Chieftains forwards, especially in the second period when they allowed only four shots to reach their netminder.
In the third period, Nashoba peppered Twomey with eight shots but just couldn't score. Twomey made a great glove stop on a bullet from the point by Colvin, and also stoned Colvin and Bobby Denaro on the power play.
"We had plenty of chances in the third period," Kendall said.
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