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South Hadley hockey too tough for Easthampton

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, moves the puck against Andrew Fleming of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, moves the puck against Andrew Fleming of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from right, scores on Easthampton goalie Matt Sarafin Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from right, scores on Easthampton goalie Matt Sarafin Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, checks Joe Fasoli of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, checks Joe Fasoli of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Evan Sullivan of South Hadley, center, shoots against Easthampton goalie Matt Sarafin while defended by Gabe Fagen Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Evan Sullivan of South Hadley, center, shoots against Easthampton goalie Matt Sarafin while defended by Gabe Fagen Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Matt Sarafin of Easthampton, right, deflects an outside shot as Evan Sullivan of South Hadley, front, and Alex Zadworny of Easthampton approach Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Matt Sarafin of Easthampton, right, deflects an outside shot as Evan Sullivan of South Hadley, front, and Alex Zadworny of Easthampton approach Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Evan Sullivan of Easthampton moves the puck against Tim Pfau of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Evan Sullivan of Easthampton moves the puck against Tim Pfau of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, moves the puck against Andrew Fleming of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from right, scores on Easthampton goalie Matt Sarafin Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, checks Joe Fasoli of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.JERREY ROBERTS
  • Evan Sullivan of South Hadley, center, shoots against Easthampton goalie Matt Sarafin while defended by Gabe Fagen Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Matt Sarafin of Easthampton, right, deflects an outside shot as Evan Sullivan of South Hadley, front, and Alex Zadworny of Easthampton approach Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Evan Sullivan of Easthampton moves the puck against Tim Pfau of Easthampton Wednesday at Lossone Rink in Easthampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

EASTHAMPTON — It appears safe to say the South Hadley hockey team has hit its stride.

One night after clinching a Western Massachusetts Division 3A Tournament berth, the Tigers jumped ahead quickly in a rare back-to-back situation to make it 10 straight games without a loss with a 4-1 victory over Easthampton Wednesday night at Lossone Rink.

“This was a complete team effort, and we played smart, unselfish hockey,” said Tigers coach John Houle. “Every guy hit the ice with their legs flying. This was as well as we’ve played all season. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our kids, they’ve shown me a lot so far.”

South Hadley (10-2-2) took advantage of a smaller rink by utilizing its overall team speed and passing ability. A perfect feed from Beau Kass on the right wing set up Tim Sweeney for the first tally of the night, as the freshman roofed the shot underneath the crossbar with 9 minutes, 11 seconds left in the first.

Just 50 seconds later, Brian Bak’s shot from the left point was stopped by Eagles goalie Matt Sarafin, but the rebound came to Dominic Florence, who knocked it in for a two-goal advantage.

“I thought we played a full three periods (Wednesday), which we really hadn’t done in a while,” said South Hadley junior co-captain Tom Crotty. “Usually we’ll play great for two periods, then have one off period. When we got our opportunities (Wednesday) we shot the puck well and scored.”

Crotty, who had a goal and an assist, is one of a handful of versatile players Houle can put anywhere on the ice.

“I’d never played on offense before, so early in the season I didn’t know what I was doing, but at this point I’m getting the hang of it,” Crotty said. “They still put me back at defense when we need it, which might happen in the playoffs. I’m definitely more comfortable back on defense.”

The only blemish for South Hadley was going 0-for-4 on the power play. Easthampton killed off a penalty within the first four minutes of the contest, but was unable to gain momentum as South Hadley scored just over two minutes later.

Sarafin stopped 31 shots to keep Easthampton within striking distance early, but the Tigers put in two more late in the second to double their lead to 4-0.

Crotty scored on a backhanded wraparound with 5:51 remaining in the second, then Kass picked up his second assist when he found Joe Whalen in the slot with just under two minutes left.

Bak and Evan Sullivan also earned an assist apiece.

Devin Hoagland only made 10 saves, but was sharp when called upon. With the clock winding down in the first period, a tricky bounce off the end boards put the puck on the stick of Cody Cleveland in the slot. He took a couple strides and fired, but Hoagland closed the pads to keep it 2-0 at the intermission.

The Eagles got on the board in the first minute of the final period. Andrew Fleming took a slap shot from the midpoint of the blue line that deflected off the stick of a South Hadley defenseman and past Hoagland.

“Easthampton’s a really good team, they move the puck well,” said Houle. “I think they’re better than even their record shows. But it’s tough with our back line, guys like Jeff (Beauregard) and Ben (Kravetz) who are well over 6-feet tall. There’s not much room to operate.”

Easthampton had an opportunity to close the gap further with a power play three minutes later but couldn’t convert on its lone man-advantage of the game.

“It was closer than the score makes it appear,” said Easthampton coach Greg Smith. “I think in many ways we played well, but our guys didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were there. But South Hadley is a better team, their defense is very strong.”

The Eagles (4-3-4) need six points in their final seven games to earn a playoff spot. They still have tough matchups with Chicopee, Turners Falls, Agawam and Greenfield.

“I think we can do it, it’s a tough schedule but we have some winnable games left,” Smith said. “It’s all a matter of the kids showing up and winning the games we should. If we do that, we’ll be able to qualify.”

While unlikely to catch Agawam (11-2-1) for the top seed in the tournament, South Hadley still has a shot at the No. 2 spot.

“We’ve got a tough schedule coming down the stretch, and the seeding is a crapshoot at this point,” Houle said. “All we know is that we won’t be No. 1. Agawam’s got that locked up. But a few years back, we were a No. 7 seed and won states. So it doesn’t matter much, you have to beat the best teams anyway.”

Said Crotty, “We’ll try to get as high a seed as possible, while also working on the parts of our game we need to improve. I think we’re pretty close to playing our best, but there are still many things to work on before the tournament.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @mjwilk1237.

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