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Rob Carmel of Easthampton scores four goals, game winner against Central

EASTHAMPTON — There’s no question the biggest key to this season’s turnaround for the Easthampton hockey team is a dramatic increase in offensive production, particularly from the top line on full display Wednesday night.

Led by a career-high four goals from senior captain Rob Carmel, the Eagles defeated Central 6-5 at Lossone Rink in Easthampton for their fourth win in five games.

Easthampton’s top line of Carmel, Tim Pfau and Mike Grise accounted for all six goals and 11-of-12 points in the contest. On the season, the trio has scored 23 of the team’s 34 goals.

“It’s been a welcome change this season because we’ve struggled offensively the last few years,” said coach Greg Smith. “Our second and third lines have contributed their fair share, but our top line certainly carried us in this one. It’s great to see those guys work so well together.”

It was the second matchup between the two most improved teams in western Mass. The Eagles (4-2-3) and Golden Eagles (3-6-2) played to a 5-5 tie on Dec. 17 in Springfield.

“In the first part of the game (Wednesday), I thought Central outplayed us, and they ended up outshooting us for the whole game,” Smith said. “We only have a couple experienced defensemen, but the rest of the guys back there are learning. We’ll definitely need to clean that part of our game up going forward, but I think they’ll be fine.”

After Central scored twice to tie the game 5-5 with 4:53 left in regulation, Carmel answered just 26 seconds late with the game winner. He found skating room up the right wing and roofed one to the stick side of goalie Adam Alicia (21 saves).

“We weren’t real happy about letting them tie it up, so somebody had to step up and get that one back,” Carmel said. “We moved it up the ice well, I had some room and from there it’s all about finishing the opportunity.”

Carmel doubled his season goal total from four to eight with his first multi-goal game.

“On a couple of those he picked up some rebounds, and then the winner was a tremendous shot from the right circle,” Smith said. “I don’t think the goalie even saw it. I’m really happy for Rob, he’s a really skilled player. It would be great to see him continue what he did (Wednesday).”

The right winger opened the scoring with just under two minutes left in the first period, then completed his first career hat trick with a pair of tallies in the second. His third goal came after some nifty passing by both Pfau and Grise.

“We’ve been together for a little while now, and we’ve built quite a bit of chemistry,” said Carmel. “It’s nice to have guys like that to play with who move the puck so well. We have similar playing styles, and we all played on the same youth team, just not at the same time. So we’ve always had similar philosophies to how to play the game.”

Pfau finished with a goal and three assists, while Grise had a goal and two assists. Gabe Fagen also earned an assist on Carmel’s second goal.

Despite allowing five goals, Easthampton goalie Matt Sarafin (22 saves) made a number of key stops to preserve the victory, including two glove saves in the final few minutes. The Eagles had to kill off a Central power play over the final 1:08, and did a good job keeping the puck on the perimeter.

Both goaltenders kept the game scoreless through most of the first period as each made 10 saves.

Steven Ford and Matty Cieboter scored two goals apiece for Central, while Ben George assisted three times.

At the midway point of their season, the Eagles have already matched their win totals from the past two seasons. They sit in a solid position to make the Western Massachusetts Division 3A tournament for the first time since 2009.

“It’s been a while for us, we haven’t even been over .500 at any point since my freshman season,” said Carmel. “We want to build on our last couple wins and hopefully make the tournament. It seems like a promising season for us.”

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

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