By Mike Dougherty
BREWSTER — A couple of early-season disappointments taught Mahopac the value of momentum, and it was on the verge of slipping away when a jolt from Tommy Kirincic dampened the growing enthusiasm of Lakeland/Panas.
Friday’s hockey game was emotional from the start, and the intensity was climbing after the Rebels narrowly beat the second-period buzzer and got within a goal, then came back out and killed off a major penalty.
But Kirincic was on the doorstep with the puck one second after Lakeland/Panas had gotten back to even strength, and lifted a dagger past goalie Brandon Vazquez. It was a game-changer. Tyler Paustian tacked on another goal a minute later, and the Indians eventually celebrated a 4-1 win at Brewster Ice Arena.
“Tommy’s been doing that all year,” said Mahopac coach Chris Lombardo, whose team moved past the Rebels into first place in Conference I-A. “He’s come up with a lot of big goals, and he played about 40 minutes tonight.”
Mike DiPasquale came into the zone with a numbers advantage six minutes into the game and got the Indians (7-4, 5-1) on the board first.Kirincic upped the advantage to 2-0 when he sped through a collapsing defense with a minute to go in the second period.
The answer came from Ryan Lynagh, but Lakeland/Panas (6-3, 4-2) suffered a setback when Sean Sullivan got pushy after the goal and was shown the door. It was a bumpy contest marred by 21 penalties, split almost evenly.
“We’re pretty close to each other (geographically),” said Vazquez, who made 26 saves. “We always see each other around the rink here after practices and games, so there’s always talk going back and forth. I guess we don’t like them and they don’t like us.”
The Rebels came out with some extra fire and were able to force a couple of short-handed opportunities while killing off the four-minute penalty. Then Kirincic saw an opening and struck quickly, derailing Lakeland/Panas.
“I was going to take the puck wide until I saw (Vazquez) drop his stick down to go for a poke-check,” the junior defenseman said. “I slowed up and went top-shelf. We’ve been focusing a lot on momentum — it’s a big part of the game.”
And when Paustian sailed one in from the blue line, the Rebels began to play like a weary team.
“It’s tough when you take all those penalties,” Vazquez said. “When you only have a 12-man roster, you can’t afford to lose one guy. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the best player or the worst. We need everybody we have on the ice.”