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South Hadley skates to 4-4 tie with Agawam

HOLYOKE — If Wednesday night’s showdown between the South Hadley and Agawam hockey teams is any indication, a fourth consecutive Western Massachusetts Division 3A title matchup would be quite entertaining, not to mention nerve-racking.

The Tigers missed by seconds what would have been their most impressive win of the season, but showed they’re once again a prime contender in a 4-4 tie at Fitzpatrick Rink.

“It’s always a great game against Agawam,” said Tigers senior captain Jeff Beauregard. “I love playing against those guys because it’s great competition, and both teams play their best against each other. It’s a ton of fun every time.”

Both teams scored in the final minute of regulation, as the Tigers allowed the tying tally with just two seconds remaining.

“The fans got their money’s worth tonight,” said South Hadley coach John Houle. “This was a great game, we knew it would be tight. We seemed to have it a couple times, but a few breakdowns cost us the win. Agawam’s a deep, talented team. But we stepped it up and hung in there. We’re short a few bodies at this point, but we tied and probably should have won.”

Beauregard beat Agawam goaltender Anthony Ascioti with a slapper from the right point with 33 seconds left to give the Tigers a 4-3 lead, but Alex Ablianitis converted for the Brownies with just two ticks remaining.

“I was kind of dumping it in for us to get a line change, but decided to put it on net and it happened to go in,” said Beauregard of his goal. “I was pretty surprised. I had turned around but looked back and saw it went in. It was deflating to give up the tying goal, but we’ll take the result.”

Beauregard, who finished with two goals, played well over 30 of the 45 minutes while rotating time on the blue line with only Ben Kravetz and Brian Bak.

“I’m dead tired right now,” he said. “It’s tough to play three defensemen against a team like Agawam. They’re fast, physical and play the game the right way. We just had to conserve ourselves as much as we could. We’ve been playing pretty well with just three, so we’ll stick with it for now.”

Said Houle, “Jeff was out there all night, but he had enough to score two big goals for us. He’s got a really good eye for the net, so we put him up front when we need to.”

Trailing 2-1 to start the third, the Tigers scored a pair of goals within 14 seconds to take their first lead. On a power play, Beau Kass sent a perfect feed from the half wall to Beauregard in front for the equalizer.

“That was a great pass from Beau,” Beauregard said. “I was just sitting there at the back post, hoping he’d see me. Once he delivered it, I one-timed it right in.”

Then upon re-entering the attacking zone after the faceoff, Evan Sullivan tallied to make it 3-2 with 8:51 to play. Kass picked up an assist on that goal as well.

“Evan had a really strong period there, he’s a solid player,” Houle said. “The guys are getting into better condition, more into playoff mode. We tried a physical, checking game, more than we usually do. Our kids were a little tired there at the end, because we just don’t have the depth we’ve had the past few years.”

Agawam dominated play over the ensuing five minutes and found the equalizer as Corey Jenks banged home a rebound for his second of the game. He scored the game’s first goal on a penalty shot early in the second.

South Hadley gained possession over the final few minutes of regulation as Sullivan, Beauregard and Nick Watkins all had solid opportunities. But Ascioti (25 saves) kept it tied until the Beauregard tally.

With the Brownies up 1-0 after Jenks’ penalty shot, Tom Dowd evened things just over a minute later by scoring amidst a scrum around the Agawam net. James Newsome re-established the Agawam lead with a little over five minutes left in the second on a break.

With only the three defensemen, the Tigers had a number of defensive breakdowns leading to scoring chances. But Devin Hoagland came up big with 35 saves, including 14 in a scoreless first period.

“Devin’s incredible, he loves these big games,” said Houle. “He’s just a junior, but he’s one of the best goalies in western Mass., maybe the best. You could step him up a division and he’s still play really well.”

South Hadley stands four points away from clinching a tournament berth with nine games to play. Agawam is winless in its last three contests, but has already assured itself a playoff spot.

“I feel we could have a few more wins at this point, but it’s hard to complain about where we sit right now,” said Beauregard. “This is a younger team and a newer team, so we’re pretty pleased with how we’ve done so far. We’re looking to get into the playoffs first, then continue to improve before the tournament starts.”

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

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