Reading survived Wilmington in 11 shootout rounds on Monday night at the Tsongas Center in Lowell to win the North Division 1 championship and prevent the Wildcats from winning three straight state titles. The Rockets won the shootout, 3-2, to seal the 4-3 victory.
"It was a great high school game and that's no way to lose it having a contest at the end there," said head coach Steve Scanlon. "But they have nothing to hang their heads about. In a lot of ways, in those previous years we knew we were going to be good and the expectations were high. This year we didn't really know where we were going to be. There was a ridiculous amount of character in the (locker)room. What they didn't have with raw skill, they made up for with effort."
The Rockets took a 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the game and dominated much of the opening frame.
But with 48 seconds left in the first period, Austin O'Neal took advantage of a Rocket turnover and flew in uncontested for a goal that tied the score at 1-1.
During a wild second period, Luke Foley gave Wilmington the 2-1 edge less than two minutes into the middle frame. After Reading tied the score again at 2-2, Justin Collins found the back of the net to give Wilmington a 3-2 lead. By the time the second period was over, however, the score was again knotted at 3-3, where it would stay into overtime.
Senior goalie Drew Foley made spectacular save after spectacular save for the Wildcats, stopping 40 Reading shots and helping Wilmington withstand double overtime and reach the shootout round.
"I've seen a lot of (spectacular performances) from him. He's unbelievable. He's probably the biggest reason we're in the position we were in," said Scanlon. "He's a fantastic goalie and certainly one of the best, if not the best, we've seen in Wilmington."
Though Wilmington fell behind 2-0 after two rounds of the shootout, Cody McGowan got one back and O'Neal forced extra attempts with a goal in the fifth and final regulation shootout try.
Foley came up big time and time again in sudden death, and Reading hit the post on two attempts before eventually escaping with the victory in the 11th round.
While the Wildcats lose eight seniors, several who are key contributors, they also have a long list of experienced players who are eligible to return next year.
"We're hoping the winning breeds winning, and we can get back here next season," said Scanlon.