WOBURN — As the saying goes: all good things must come to an end.
The Stoneham High School boys' hockey team, while perhaps not ringing up the wins as frequently as they would have hoped this season, still managed to advance through the preliminary round at the MIAA Division 2 North Sectionals, becoming the team with the lowest win total in its bracket to do so.
Twentieth-seeded Stoneham (5-14-1) beat 13th-ranked Watertown, 5-3, in the opening round of the playoff Tuesday night. The Spartans, playing almost exclusively against Div. 1 teams in the high-powered Middlesex League, qualified for the tournament under the MIAA’s “Sullivan Rule,” allowing teams playing more than 70 percent of their games against higher-division opponents to be considered for postseason entry based solely on games against teams in the same division. Stoneham went 2-0 against Division 2 competition this year.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, Thursday night they weren’t able to knock another higher-seeded squad out of the tourney, falling to fourth-seeded Saugus, 3-1, in a first-round battle at Woburn’s Ned O’Brien Arena.
“Being the 20th seed and only winning four games (during the regular season), we gave them a pretty good game,” said Stoneham coach Bill Seabury. “We played pretty well in the second and third period. It was actually a pretty even game, we just got off to a slow start.”
Dalton Cox scored Stoneham’s lone goal when he finished off a fine pass from Mike Kelly in the final minute of the second period. Saugus was paced by Kurt Rodrigues (two goals, one assist) and Drew Oxley (two assists, one goal), who combined to score all three of the Sachems’ goals.
Trailing 3-1 heading into the final period, the Spartans showed no signs of quitting. Stoneham created numerous chances at the goal in the final 15 minutes, but the Saugus defense lived up to its miserly reputation and kept them off the board.
“We came out in the third period and played pretty well,” Seabury said. “I thought we took it to them a little bit.”
The Sachems also benefitted from a strong night between the pipes from Nick Hegarty. The junior made 19 saves, many of which came late in the game.
“We had a lot of good chances,” Seabury said. “(Hegarty) made a lot of good saves... we hit the post a couple of times.”
In the Stoneham end, netminder Dan Lumb saw considerably more action than his counterpart, especially early on, making 13 saves in the first period alone. Lumb collected 28 saves for the game.
Despite bowing out of the tournament, the Spartans played hard to the end. Their win against Watertown helps to demonstrate the validity of the oft-maligned rule that put them in the postseason.
“We’re playing in a tough league,” Seabury said. “If we didn’t have that Sullivan Rule, it’s hard for us to get in to the tournament.”
The Spartans’ coach is of the mind that the proof is in the pudding regarding his team’s legitimacy as a tourney team.
“The kids can skate with those teams,” he said. “Once we get in the Division 2 tournament after playing in a Division 1 league, it’s not like (the opponents) were a lot better than we were.”
Looking ahead, the Spartans graduate just two seniors this year, so if nothing else, the trip to the tourney will serve as valuable experience for Stoneham’s returning players heading into next season.
“It was a really good experience for the kids,” Seabury said. “We only have two seniors on the team, so it’s a good learning experience for next year.”
Saugus plays Bishop Fenwick in the quarterfinals on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Salem State University.