By Evan Wheaton
For the second time this season, the outcome between Springfield and Coast Guard was determined by one goal.
The NECHA Colonial South rivals ended their latest meeting Sunday night at Smead with a 3-2 finish in the Bears’ favor.
“They’re a good team, we’re a good team. If we played them 10 times, we’d be 5-5, so I hope we catch them again at the end of the season,” Springfield coach George Johnson said. “I’m proud of the way the boys fought until the end. That’s a team that’s really well matched with us so they’re a good program. Head held up high. It’s one-goal games each time.”
Matt Gazaille drew first blood after banging in a shot with the help of Liam Whitman and Matt Hajdasz. It didn’t come easy, however, as Coast Guard remained physical on the boards and in the open ice.
The Bears entered the locker room after the first period on a high note.
After Whitman was called for slashing with 32 seconds left, the Bears found the net on the power play.
“We’ve battled all year. Even if we go down, they sort of beat us on the first five, our goal is to beat them on the next five,” defenseman Doug Shane said. “I think as a team we get better as the game goes on.”
Coast Guard’s momentum carried into the second period.
Often beating the Pride to the puck, the Bears were able to keep up their time of possession. Zipping up the Pride’s defensive zone, Bears’ Eric Bertulatis received a pass that subsequently made it past George Matteo at the net.
Once the Bears increased their lead off an unassisted goal in the third period, Whitman gave the Pride a fighting chance.
Despite being pressured all night, the Pride crafted a scoring play by having Whitman get around on the right side of the crease. With a pass from Hajdasz, Whitman tipped it in to cut the deficit.
“They’re physical, we try to match their physicality,” Shane said. “We just have to keep going, that’s the way the game’s going to go, that’s the way they play. But we use our speed and we’ll go around them and get pucks to the net.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to lift Springfield over Coast Guard, but one former player in attendance noticed vast improvement with this year’s squad.
“There’s a lot of new guys, a lot of returners,” Springfield alum Nick Lupi said. “They’ve come together quite well over the last few games. I was here for the home opener and it didn’t look anything like it did today. It’s a good group. They played strong and almost came back at the end.”
A graduate of 2019, the East Longmeadow native was a transfer student who played goalie for his two years with Springfield. Having come to games this year following his walk across the stage, Lupi is just one example of the strong alumni following that the team has established.
“I’m an alum, all the coaches we’ve ever had are alums, and we build that honor and it’s not something that goes away after you graduate,” Johnson said. “I got to see Charlie Murphy, Steve Young, I saw 10 ex-players on Friday night and it means everything to me.”
For many on the team, much of their motivation stems from trying to pave the way for future generations of the program.
“It’s huge, they worked hard for us and they like to see us perform on the ice,” Shane said. “They built the program and we just continue to do what they did so it means a lot for them to come back and support us.”
Featured photo courtesy of Evan Wheaton