From town hockey to South Shore League frontrunner: Sean Donovan has Clippers flying
PLYMOUTH — The Norwell High boys hockey team is soaring high with a fast start to their season, and a large part of that is due to an exceptional defense that has allowed 22 goals in 13 games.
At this time last year, the last line of that defense, starting goalie Sean Donovan, was on the ice playing hockey, just not in a Clippers jersey.
“Last year I was playing hockey for my town team,” said Donovan. “I wasn’t playing high school. But I’m glad I came back this year for my senior year.”
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Now Donovan is starting for a 12-1 team that hasn’t lost a league game since he was in middle school. And coming off Wednesday's physical, high-intensity 3-2 win over Plymouth North, a Division 4 state title is the goal.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Donovan. “It feels really great because I haven’t been in this position before and it’s a tough task, but I’m doing pretty well this year. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
"Pretty well" is an understatement. On average, Donovan has allowed 1.83 goals per game against some of the top teams on the South Shore. It took some convincing by his friends to lure Donovan back to varsity for one last hoorah. But he’s one of many Clippers who sat in the shadows last year and now are pivotal to Norwell's current six-game winning streak.
“The goalie, he’s a senior first of all. He never started before,” said Norwell coach Jim Casagrande. “And then (sophomore forward) Matthew Cerruti, who was on the team last year but didn’t see a lot of time, he really stepped into a high-leverage role. Then we have (sophomore forward) Ryan Johnson who didn’t play last year; I think he played club hockey.”
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The Clippers went down 1-0 early in the first period as Plymouth North's Justin Smith scored off a feed from Sean Hallissey. But at 4:18 of the period, Norwell senior Timothy Ward scored shorthanded, set up by a Kevin Leary slapshot at the blue line, to tie it up 1-1.
Ward netted the go-ahead goal before senior captain Austin Shea made it 3-1 late in the second period.
But the Blue Eagles didn’t go down without a fight. A goal from Josh Bates, again assisted by Hallissey, narrowed Norwell's lead to 3-2 with 12:03 left in the game.
Each time the Panthers fought back with a score, the home crowd in Armstrong Skating Arena was jolted with energy. Donovan handled it like a seasoned vet.
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“My teammates are very supportive,” said Donovan. “They’re coming up to me encouraging me (after I allow a goal). I skate it away and shake it off and lock back in the zone to continue the game.”
A combined eight penalties prevented the Clippers from pulling away.
“Just got to shut your mouth,” Ward said. “A lot of penalties we get this year is by talking back to the refs, so we’re working on that and keeping our stick down.”
But Norwell also capitalized on penalties at times. Shea's eventual game-winning goal, with 1:17 left in the second, came on a blazing wrister with the teams skating 4-on-4.
Although this is one of few close games the Clippers have had, their mindset is already on the postseason.
“The goal was never to win the South Shore League,” said Shea. “We want the win the state title this time. Last year we came up short, but we knew we had some guys stepping up, too.”
“It’s been a nice surprise,” Casagrande said of his team's fast start. “We were loaded last year. We lost some kids to prep (schools), some kids to graduation, but that’s how it goes. It’s nice to see kids step up and really make it their team.”
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Norwell High boys hockey team escapes with win over Plymouth North