LOWELL—During the regular season nothing could separate these two hockey teams. Wakefield High and Burlington played each other twice. The result was a pair of draws. They even split the Middlesex League Small School title.
Last night at Tsongas Center, however, separation didn’t appear to be an issue for the speedy Red Devils, who jumped out to a 4-0 lead after two periods of hockey and never looked back. Burlington beat the defending champion Warriors and won the Division I North crown, 4-2, behind a spirited offensive performance and a solid night from netminder Derek DeCastro (28 saves).
Burlington will take on South champs Milton on Sunday at TD Garden for the Division I State Championship [Starting time is still TBA].
Coming into the game, Red Devils’ bench boss Bob Conceison knew that in order to lead his team to the Garden, they would need to find a way to solve newly-minted All-Scholastic goaltender Joe Cerulo—whose heroics helped take the Warriors to the Garden last year. Conceison came up with a novel approach to the issue.
“We actually spent three days shooting at two goalies in the net,” Conceison said following the game. “Joey [Cerulo] is so big, he takes up so much net ... We did a lot of drills with two goalies in the net, trying to find holes and trying to make him work. It seemed to pay off, because we got some goals at the beginning that really helped us.”
Trevor Cimino—as he has been all season long—was key for the Red Devils, and he said the dual-netminder approach did the trick. Cimino finished with a goal and two assists.
“Cerulo’s a big boy; he’s a good goalie,” said Cimino. “We put two in the net, just to act like we had one big goalie. It worked. We got him moving side-to-side, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”
Burlington’s players and coaching staff knew they had a speed advantage over Wakefield, and that on Tsongas Center’s college-sized playing surface, it would be even more pronounced. Warriors head coach Derek Edgerly realized this as well.
“You’ve got to hit them,” he said of how to counteract such speedy skaters. “If you can catch them. You have to play disciplined. I wish we could have that first goal back, that changed things a little bit, but give credit to Burlington, they played hard ... They deserved to win.”
Cimino said the Red Devils knew they had an advantage coming into the game.
“We knew we could out-skate them,” he said of Burlington’s speed. “The first two times we played were on smaller rinks. This is a huge ice surface, a college ice surface and we used our speed to go right around them.”
Two of Burlington’s goals came on the power play, and according to Conceison, this was no coincidence.
“We saw something in the way they [penalty] killed, and we worked on it the last couple of days” he said. “It seemed to work out for us, and we got some good looks on the power play.”
For his part, Edgerly said that he was pleased with how hard his team worked and was surprised that this year’s edition was able to even reach this point.
“I thought last year was our chance,” said Edgerly. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t think we would make it this far with this team. These kids have worked their butts off since day one ... This team just kept working harder and harder. They have a great attitude. They’ve had a two year run that’s just unbelievable.”
Burlington struck first with 4:18 left in the opener, and it was their third line that did it. Joe Scali beat Cerulo (14 saves) to open the scoring. Dan Metzdorf and Joe Moran picked up the assists.
“They had a couple of big goals [against Acton-Boxboro in the semifinals] as well,” said Conceison. “We’re a three-line team, and all three lines contributed.”
The Red Devils (17-2-6) jumped all over their rivals and co-champs from the Middlesex League Small School Division in the second stanza, scoring three goals to put this one away.
Brett Romkey picked up Burlington’s second goal on the night 9:32 into the second, with Cimino and Dan McMahon on the assists. Less than three minutes later, CJ Grinnell beat Cerulo on the power play to open a 3-0 Burlington lead.
Cimino found the net with just over 30 seconds left in the period—another power play strike—assisted by Joe Berardi and Grinnell, giving the Red Devils a daunting 4-0 advantage headed into the final frame.
But Wakefield (12-6-6) didn’t get to this stage by being pushovers, and they had some fight left in them.
“These kids have played with such class—win or lose—all year and I’m just so proud of them,” said Edgerly. “There is only one word you can use: it [stinks] when you lose and it’s great when you win.”
Edward Matthews finally solved the riddle of Derek DeCastro at 9:37 of the third, assisted by Kevin Doherty and Dan Cardillo, while Doherty also added the final Warriors goal of the night with under two minutes left, an unassisted tally.
Cimino summed up the sentiments of many of his teammates, no doubt, following the win.
“It’s been my dream,” he said, of playing on the hallowed ice of the TD Garden. “I know Burlington went there a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t part of that team ... It’s been my dream ever since to come back, and we are finally coming back.”
The Red Devils last played in the Garden in the 2008-09 Division IA (Super 8) final, where they lost to powerhouse Catholic Memorial, 5-1.
“We are really happy to go to the Garden,” said Conceison. “I think it’s going to be a great game. We have a few days to get ready for it, and hopefully we will be.”