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South Hadley hockey stumbles in third period, falls to Wahconah

HOLYOKE — South Hadley goaltender Devin Hoagland delayed the inevitable for as long as he possibly could Wednesday night.

But Wahconah Regional blistered the Tigers net in the third period, scoring three times to emerge with a 6-3 victory at Fitzpatrick Rink.

Tied 3-3, the Warriors put 22 shots on goal over the final 15 minutes and finally broke through with four minutes, 33 seconds left in regulation as Jake Beckwith scored the game winner off a rebound.

“We played well for a good stretch there, then slowed up toward the end of the second and they dominated the third,” said South Hadley coach John Houle. “We’re really young and it shows. But the guys are realizing they have to show up and work their hardest every game. If we don’t play three full periods, it could be a long season.”

Hoagland made 31 saves on the evening, including 19 in the third period. He single-handedly kept the Tigers even, especially when he stopped three consecutive shots with roughly 6:30 left to play.

The junior also stoned a pair of breakaway opportunities for Wahconah (3-1), which employs a hard-charging offensive attack.

“Overall, Devin played well (against Wahconah), but there were a couple goals he’d probably like to have back,” said Houle. “He played very well against Agawam (Saturday), when we were scoreless after two. Then they scored two really skilled goals to beat us. We made a couple mistakes that hurt us, and that happened again” Wednesday.

Coupled with Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Agawam, the Tigers (2-2) dropped back-to-back games after losing only one regular-season contest over the past two seasons.

“We’re a .500 club right now, and that’s definitely where we deserve to be,” said Houle. “If we show up for full games, we’ll have a good chance to be better than that. But it’s going to take a full team effort, we don’t have the high-end talent of years past. So it needs to be an effort across the board. We need every player every night.”

Wednesday’s game ended poorly for South Hadley and started the same way, as Ryan Ouimet and Andrew Beaudoin tallied in the first two minutes for a quick 2-0 Warriors lead.

But the Tigers responded with the next three goals. The comeback started just past the midway point of the first when Beau Kass stole the puck behind the net, came around in front and snapped one past goalie Roger Stedman (22 saves) to make it 2-1. It was the sophomore’s team-leading fifth goal.

Then two of Houle’s talented freshman class teamed up to give South Hadley the lead. With just over three minutes left in the first, Stedman couldn’t corral a loose puck and Tim Sweeney backhanded it home to tie it at 2-2. Then with 1:21 elapsed in the second period, Brian Bak’s shot from the blue line was stopped, but Stedman left a rebound at the right post that Evan Sullivan knocked in.

“Sullivan and Sweeney look good in the early going, and that was a really nice goal by Beau,” said Houle. “But defensively we just weren’t there, we didn’t backcheck well, and the faceoffs were a real struggle. Our individual skills just aren’t at a high enough level yet.”

The Tigers were presented with an opportunity to increase their advantage with their lone power play of the game, but Stedman robbed Tom Crotty on the only strong chance.

Ouimet scored the equalizer with just under five minutes to go in the second. He won a faceoff cleanly at the left dot, stepped through to the slot and put it past Hoagland. The Warriors rode that momentum for the rest of the contest.

South Hadley struggled in the faceoff circle and had defensive issues for most of the night. The Tigers allowed three clean breakaways, and the final one gave the Warriors an insurance tally as Nick Montferret converted for a 5-3 lead with 4:29 left in regulation.

Bak and Jake Knowles were credited with an assist apiece for the Tigers.

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.

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