ORLEANS — At the end, the Nauset High boys hockey team deserved better than it got.
This year’s team, led by a sizable senior class contingent, brought the program to new heights. But as the stakes get higher, when cruel luck strikes, it hurts more.
The fourth-seeded Warriors were stunned in the final seconds of their Division 3 State Tournament quarterfinal match against Watertown at Charles Moore Arena on March 8, losing 3-2. Watertown’s Mauricio Souza scored a breakaway goal with five seconds left, and there was little time to process what happened.
Twice, the Warriors had fought back from one-goal deficits against the fifth-seeded Raiders, with junior center Cam Connery scoring at the 2:06 mark of the second period to tie the game at 2-2. He cut in from the wing and ripped a wrist shot off the bar and in. The noise in the packed arena was deafening.
“I didn’t have any words when I scored that goal,” said Connery. He peeled around, took three strides to reach the fans and leapt into the glass to celebrate before being mobbed by his teammates. “That rink was so loud. From there, I believed we could win it.”
Ticket sales for the game were capped at 888, but there were close to 1,000 people inside the rink. Some began turning up more than an hour and a half before puck drop. The P.A. announcer said, “If you leave the rink, you will not get back in.” No one was leaving.
Senior right wing Dan Deering, who had been hot in the post-season, had a golden chance to put Nauset ahead in the third period, but a slight hesitation on a pass across goal allowed the Watertown goalie to slide from left to right to make the save.
Instead, it will be Watertown making its second straight trip to a state tournament semifinal. It happened fast. Nauset’s Joe McManus couldn’t get enough on his shot from the blue line. With McManus’s teammates all sucked deep in the offensive zone, the Raiders went the other way. Domenic Moynihan kicked the puck out of the zone and off the boards to Souza. Souza deked twice before shooting through freshman goalie Arthur Figueiredo’s legs. Game over. Season over.
“Games typically don’t end that way,” said Nauset Head Coach Connor Brickley. “There’s nothing you can do or say that’s going to make it any better.”
Just four days earlier, Nauset had felt the ultimate of highs when senior Logan Valine scored in overtime to lift the Warriors into the quarterfinals. “Five seconds, and there goes our season,” said sophomore Logan Poulin. “We’re all going to remember this feeling for a while — just a bad feeling.”
Poulin, the team’s leading scorer, showed time and again this season that he could create magic on the ice. With 1:43 to play in the first period against Watertown, he took a pass from his defenseman just outside his own zone and turned on the jets, easily skating around two Raider defenders and dangling to the outside of a third before firing a shot into the far corner to make it 1-1.
Watertown had an answer for that, scoring 59 seconds later. It felt as if Watertown had an answer for everything. They killed off a 5-on-3 midway through the second and then responded to Connery’s goal.
“I felt empty,” said Connery afterward. “But the boys were there for each other. We all knew we had to be there for Joe [McManus] and tell him that it’s not on him — we win as a team and lose as a team.”
After Brickley spoke to the players in the locker room, a handful left still dressed in their gear to speak to their friends and families and take photos.
“It was a great season, and as seniors we’re just hoping that the team can continue to build a Nauset hockey culture,” said senior co-captain Pete Murphy as he returned to the locker room. “And, uh, uh…” There was hurt in his voice — he couldn’t finish his thought. “I’m sorry.”
But there’s nothing to apologize for. Over four years, the eight seniors contributed to a growing respect for Nauset hockey. As freshmen, they won just one game. As sophomores, three. They combined for 30 wins in their junior and senior years, including a 17-6 record this season.
“It means a lot that we were able to leave the program better than we found it,” said Murphy.
In the official record books, the March 8, 2023 game will go down as a loss. But in other ways, it was a victory for Nauset hockey because there had never been that level of buzz around the program.
“The crowd speaks for itself. We’ve got great support here,” said Brickley. It was the biggest game in the program’s history, and it meant something. And it’s supposed to hurt.
At the last, the players saluted the fans with sticks held up to the ceiling before exiting the ice to chants of “We love Nauset!”