Is it too early to proclaim the Weymouth High hockey team as a Cinderella story in the Super 8? If you saw last Sunday's events unfold, it's hard not to.
All that was missing was the red carpet.
One by one they came out, baseball hats worn low, huge maroon and gold equipment bags, matching their team jackets, in tow over the shoulder, and hockey sticks in hand. The members of the team were navigating their way from the back entrance of the Paul Tsongas Arena to their school bus.
It was a short walk, but it was made longer as each player came out to the screams and adulation of the hometown fans who made the 45-mile trek to Lowell. People lined up on either side of the walkway as if they were waiting for a newly married couple leaving the church after a wedding ceremony. Pictures were taken, pats on the back and high fives were handed out as each player received a hero’s welcome.
But the loudest cheers came at the end, as sophomore Chris Daugherty emerged. And why not? Daugherty had been hearing the cheers before, during, and after the Wildcats’ stunning 2-1 win over Catholic Memorial.
The backup goalie all season, Daugherty had been thrust into the starting role last week when junior Ryan McAllister was suspended for what Weymouth coach Bob Donovan termed a school rule violation. The Wildcats were set to face CM, the No. 1 team in the state, fresh off a 10-1 drubbing of Central Catholic, in the first round of Super 8 play. With McAllister in goal, Weymouth had already exceeded the expectations of some when it knocked off Malden Catholic, 3-2, in the first round. Next up were the Knights, and Daugherty’s only previous varsity action was in mop up duty when the game was already in hand in favor of Weymouth. McAllister had started all 21 games, posting a 1.33 goals against average. In fact, Daugherty’s only starts this year were down at the junior varsity level, helping to eliminate any rust he might have accumulated during the season.
Last Sunday the crowd was behind Daugherty from the beginning and the Wildcats' defense was solid in front of him. Each time he handled the puck, the crowd erupted in support, and as the game progressed, and he was actually forced to make a few saves, the momentum shifted to Weymouth. The Wildcats drew first blood and held the lead for a while, but when CM evened the score with 12 minutes remaining, it seemed as if maybe the floodgates were about to open. We had seen it before. A team hangs tough for a couple of periods, only to see the Knights find an extra gear in the third and win going away.
It was different this time. Weymouth had an answer. Joe Greene, who transferred from CM back to Weymouth, answered just 47 seconds later to give the Wildcats the lead again, 2-1. Greene had been whistled for a penalty earlier in the game and heard it from the CM faithful when he was sent to the penalty box. After he scored, he skated off to the side, in front of the CM cheering section, where his teammates caught up with him and celebrated.
Greene's goal was just enough; Daugherty and his defense made it stand for the win.
"The defense did a great job -- they blocked a lot of shots and kept them away from the slot,” said Daugherty, who recorded 24 saves to get the win.
To some it seemed that sending a goalie in for his first varsity start in the Super 8 was a recipe for disaster, but not everyone saw it that way.
“The fact is who was playing goalie was inconsequential. Everyone at this level has at least one other goalie who can play,” CM coach Bill Hansen said.
Indeed, those who followed the team believed heading into the season that both McAllister and Daugherty were both solid goalies. McAllister had been the starter last year when the Wildcats advanced to the Div. 1 South playoffs. The team was locked in a battle with Xaverian in an early-round matchup, and the game headed into overtime. The Hawks escaped with the win when they sent a shot in from behind the blue line, and it eluded McAllister for a goal. That ended Weymouth's season.
McAlister worked hard all offseason to atone for that miscue, and the Wildcats went 19-1 this season to capture the Bay State Conference title. If Weymouth is to carry on that success, though, it will be with Daugherty in goal.
It will be different now. At 21-1, and after a pair of wins over two Catholic Conference teams, it will be hard to think of Weymouth as the underdog. There will be no sneaking up on anyone. The Wildcats just hope the clock doesn't strike midnight on their season anytime soon.