By Josh Perry
NEEDHAM, Mass. – Without Mike Panepinto, Mike Elcock, Nobles transfer Danny Jacobs or a host of other “household names,” as head coach Dave Wainwright referred to them, Needham had a lack of star power heading into the spring. But, the Rockets rarely rebuild and there is a host of players ready to step up and fill in for the stars that have left.
“The next man up mentality is something that we’re trying to impart on the guys this year,” explained Wainwright on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Field.
He added, “If you were to ask a lot of people who was the guy [on our team], they would either name a lot or no one and we kind of like that approach.”
The new crop of Rockets sent a message in Saturday’s season opener with a strong defensive performance in the wind and the cold against 2014 Div. 2 finalist Hingham. Needham held the Harbormen scoreless in the first half and allowed only one goal through three quarters in a 6-3 victory.
Needham pressured from the front with attackers Tim Peterson and Cam Wolfe setting the tone by forcing Hingham into turnover as they tried to transition into attack. The strong rides and one-on-one defense continued with poles Matt Hecker and Danny O’Connor not giving any space to the Hingham attack and limiting the visitors to one shot on frame in the first half.
“They did a good job defensively,” said Hingham coach John Todd, “and they won the ground ball battle. We struggled to clear the ball easily and it became a scramble. We just didn’t make it easy on ourselves.”
Needham took the lead with 5:29 remaining in the first quarter when Wolfe received a pass from Aaron Maslow and rifled a shot past Hingham goalie Jack Santilli. The Rockets would continue to pressure and would force Santilli into eight saves in the first half alone and 12 for the game.
“He was awesome,” said Todd about his senior goalie. “He kept us in the game…but we have to shore up the guys in front of him, so he doesn’t have to do that day-in, day-out.”
The Rockets continued to be strong in front of their goalie, Ryan Christensen, with O’Connor taking a pair of shots off his helmet during one second quarter sequence. With 1:09 left in the half, a turnover led to the second goal on a quick break that transitioned from Wolfe to Peterson to Chris Canavan, who scored on the doorstep.
Down by only two goals at the break, Hingham was still in the contest. But that changed little more than two minutes into the third as Tommy Stenberg scored a pair of goals in the span of 25 seconds to give Needham a four-goal cushion. The first came on an assist by Wolfe and after the draw was won by Needham, Stenberg was there again to finish from close range.
“Sure 2-0 is not what we’re looking for in the first half, but we would have taken it considering [Jack] made quality saves and we were throwing the ball too much,” said Todd.
Hingham tried to make it more interesting with 7:58 left in the third when a loose ball bounced into the path of Jack Hern and he slammed it home to make it 4-1. The momentum lasted exactly four minutes before Cliff Kurker let fly with a man-up rip that picked the corner and restored the lead to four.
After a cross-check call against Needham, the Harbormen again chipped into the lead with Mark Hennessey making the perfect pass diagonally across the crease to Jack O’Rourke on the back post and he easily finished to cut the lead to 5-2.
Again, Needham responded to ensure a comfortable lead in the fourth. Peterson with the pinpoint pass to find Maslow and he fired it home to make it 6-2.
Wainwright said, “We looked up and all of a sudden the scoreboard said 4-0, but we weren’t satisfied. We got into a situation in the fourth quarter with a four-goal lead and that’s when we got a little more comfortable and could wait for them to come to us.”
Hingham scored another with 12.7 seconds showing on the clock as O’Rourke added an assist on a great feed to Ryan Madden for a consolation goal. It was far from a perfect performance, but Todd was looking at the game as a learning experience that could prepare the Harbormen for another tournament run.
He said, “Our expectations are never lowered. It’s just a matter of how are we going to get there and who are we going to get there with.”
Wainwright called himself “lucky” to be part of a program that typically reloads rather than rebuilds and he also has high expectations for his team, even if others around the state may not be thinking of Needham as a potential champion.
“We’re not really seen as one of the top guns,” said Wainwright. “They don’t know how to take what we have this year and we’re okay with that.”
He added, “We’ve always been able to reload and we feel like this crew can be the next to reach that level.”