Behind a pair of goals from Holliston senior forward Connor Dupont — both of which came at critical points in the game — and some timely goalkeeping from Holliston senior tri-captain Chris Lamont, The Panthers managed a 4-4 tie with the Tri-Valley League rival Warriors.
The pace was furious and the hitting was tenacious as the two teams lit up the scoreboard while the fans on hand were treated to a hard-fought 45 minutes of hockey.
Playing in his first high school hockey game, Holliston freshman Tyler Perry had a chance to win the game on a penalty shot late in the third period but was denied by Warriors' goalie Connor Roddy. The Panthers (0-0-1, 0-0-1 TVL) were otherwise strong offensively as senior forward Eric Witunski and sophomore forward Max Turcotte tallied the other two Holliston goals.
"On offense, it was great all around," said Holliston head coach Rick LeBlanc. "Our system worked perfectly after we worked on it a lot yesterday and we were able to score on our first two power plays."
Meanwhile, Medfield's Jim MaGrath - who was perhaps the best player on the ice all night – racked up a goal and an assist while Chris Diana, John Buchanan and Mike Brown also scored for the Warriors (0-0-1, 0-0-1, TVL). Still, in spite of the solid effort, Medfield seemed frustrated by the early Panther goals and especially by Dupont's late third-period equalizer.
"All the credit in the world to Holliston, they came out ready to play and really took it to us," said Medfield head coach Toby Carlow. "Our guys took for granted the hard work they put in last year and just assumed it would transfer over to this year but it's a new year and we got to be able to put forward a better effort every night."
Holliston's Witunski opened the scoring a minute into the game on a slapshot that was deflected in past Roddy. A few minutes later, a Turcotte wrister trickled into the net for the early 2-0 Panthers advantage.
Medfield quickly stormed back to tie as McGrath got his team on the board with 3:29 remaining before Diana tied the game at 2-2 about a minute later.
"He's (McGrath) a great hockey player," said LeBlanc. "It was tough, one of my points to the referee was that as the home team I should have been getting the last (line) change before it ended. When I saw him go out there, I was disappointed - he's a great hockey player."
The Panthers answered with just 27 seconds remaining in the first period as Dupont's first goal gave Holliston a 3-2 lead with 27 seconds remaining in a wild first period. After Holliston had squandered the early 2-0 lead, Dupont's goal was the turning point in the game as momentum swayed back to the red and white heading into the second period.
Both teams were physical throughout the game as the penalties piled up on both sides. McGrath, however, seemed to be skating in open ice all night long, while getting his teammates involved. The most graceful goal of the evening came with 7:55 remaining in an otherwise defensive-minded second period when McGrath perfectly set up Buchanan on a breakaway to tie it up at 3-3.
That goal stole back the momentum for Medfield. With the Warriors controlling the puck in the latter stages of the second period, Lamont managed to keep Holliston in it, stonewalling several bids, including a wraparound attempt on a power play.
The Warriors eventually broke through, briefly taking a 4-3 lead with 8:31 in the third period as they punched in a rebound to beat Lamont. But Dupont again came through for the Panthers, knotting the game at four apiece with a wrister off a face-off two minutes later.
"The guys just worked hard every period, battled hard every shift," said LeBlanc. "It was great to watch and I'm very proud."
Medfield, led by the fast-skating McGrath, had a chance to win the game on a late power play but was denied by a resilient Holliston penalty kill. Perry's penalty shot — he had been dragged down by a Medfield defender — late in the third period proved to be the final legitimate chance to break the tie.
"It's the first game and they were all really excited to play, maybe over-excited," said Carlow. "It's tough, you know they got all their friends out there, they want to be involved and do everything and that can lead to a lot of bad play."