LaPierre Scores Two to Lead Wahconah to Sectional Final
WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Wahconah hockey team came out of the second period of Saturday’s Western Massachusetts Division 3A semifinal game with a 1-0 lead … and not much else.
But it hit the ice in the third period like a house afire and blazed its way to a 3-1 win over Amherst-Pelham and a date in Thursday’s sectional title game against Greenfield.
Ryan LaPierre scored a pair of goals, and Jake Risley stopped 35 shots as third-seeded Wahconah improved to 16-3-2 and earned a rematch against the top-seeded Green Wave (18-3).
LaPierre said the team took a different attitude out of the locker room after the second intermission.
“I’m pretty sure we came out even strength, which was a big thing,” LaPierre said. “We were in the box a lot. We were able to get our legs behind us in the locker room and gather up. Our coaches were talking us up, getting us ready. And we just came out and said, it’s gotta be the hardest 15 minutes of the season.”
Wahconah, which had just four shots on goal in the second period, fired three shots on net in the first 38 seconds of the third, taking to heart the message that coach Matt Risley imparted during the break.
“I don’t know what it was,” the coach said. “That first couple of periods wasn’t really our game. We were kind of adjusting to their game rather than us bringing our game and making them adjust to us.
“So that’s what I said to my team between the second and third. I said, ‘Listen, let’s go out and play our hockey game and make them adjust to us. And that’s what they did. They came out, got their legs moving, they started playing together and put a couple in and it made it a lot easier.”
Wahconah used a little of that teamwork to generate the game’s first goal early in the second period.
Mason Alfonso took a pass out of the defensive zone from Corey Bazonski and took it from the Wahconah blueline into the Hurricanes’ zone. Alfonso then crossed to LaPierre, who finished to make it a 1-0 game.
And that is where it stood after a second period in which Wahconah fended off Amherst’s fourth and fifth power-play opportunities of the game.
During that flurry of Wahconah offensive activity in front of Amherst’s net to start the third period, a Hurricane player was whistled for a hooking penalty with 12 minutes, 25 seconds left in regulation.
With just nine seconds left in Wahconah’s fourth power-play chance, Luke Peplowski passed from behind the net to LaPierre, who scored his second of the game to make it 2-0.
“Luke has good eyes, and he’s good at finding his teammates,” LaPierre said. “Most of that goal was Luke. I was just right there and put it in.”
Second-seeded Amherst (13-5-3) got its sixth power play of the night with 3:20 left in the game.
This time, it cashed in, when Kouji Ishida scored out of a scramble in front of the Wahconah goal to cut Amherst’s deficit in half.
Amherst pulled its keeper with about a minute left to play and earned yet another power play chance with 36 seconds left.
The Canes had two offensive zone faceoffs in the last 36 seconds. Wahconah controlled the second, with 7.7 seconds left, and got it to Bazonski, who ripped a shot from his defensive zone that found the back of the net as time expired, providing the final margin.
Wahconah advanced to the final by allowing just two goals combined in its two playoff wins. Jake Risley was really put to the test in this one, stopping 16 shots in the first period alone, a period that included some of Amherst’s best scoring opportunities of the night.
“Jake was solid in net today,” Matt Risley said. “I think our defense did a good job keeping the shots to the outside, but he was as solid as he needed to be. The little scrum at the end -- it seems like the scrums aren’t going our way in front of the net lately. But he held on and kept us in it.
“That’s all you can ask for out of a goalie.”
Wahconah will be back at the Olympia Ice Center on Thursday to take on Greenfield, a 4-3 loser at the Boys and Girls Club earlier this season.
“Greenfield’s a great team,” LaPierre said. “We played them earlier in the year. We’ve just got to come out, work hard and hope for the best.”