WEST SPRINGFIELD >> The Wahconah hockey team got off to a fast start in its postseason opener on Tuesday, something that turned out to be significant in the result of the game.
The No. 3 Warriors jumped out to a two-goal lead just 2:05 into the game against No. 6 St. Mary's at the Olympia Ice Center. But after allowing a late first-period goal to the Saints, Wahconah didn't get on the board again until a pair of empty-netters put away a 4-1 victory for the Berkshire County squad.
Nate Lapine scored once and contributed two assists for the Warriors (15-4-1). Wahconah advances to the Western Mass. Division III-A semifinal round where it will face No. 2 Chicopee Comp on Saturday.
"The kids did pretty well," Wahconah coach Don Disbrow said. "We felt like we controlled the puck most of the time. Their goalie played really well down at the other end."
Vinnie Orlandi opened the scoring against St. Mary's with a goal only 52 seconds in off a feed from Lapine. Mike Moreno doubled the Warrior lead with 12:55 still remaining in the first period, also off a dish from Lapine.
Playing without Mike Bloom and Andrew Beaudoin, as each was controversially suspended for two games following a postgame skirmish against Easthampton in the season finale, Wahconah was unable to score again until the very end of the game.
"It was definitely a struggle," Lapine said of playing without the two teammates. "They're two leading scorers, they help motivate the team and get everyone pumped up. Without them, I feel like we were able to do it but it would have been better if they were with us.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge for us. But we knew that if we kept working hard and kept getting chances that we were going to score."
The lead was cut in half with just under three minutes remaining in the first period, as Matt King netted one for the Saints.
Neither team scored in the second and for the most of the third, as Saint Mary's goalie Val Reopel and Wahconah's Nico Romano each made some quality saves to keep the game close.
That included a great save from Romano just over a minute into the second quarter when the Saints got a clean look after a 2-on-1 break and the Wahconah goalie made a glove stop.
"We kept them out of our zone a lot of the time," Disbrow said. "We also talked about not making mental mistakes. We have to stay away from those."
The Saints, who were also missing several key players due to suspension, never did break through to tie the game, and were forced to pull Reopel with about 90 seconds remaining in the contest.
That's when Orlandi scored an empty-netter with 63 seconds remaining to punch the Warriors' ticket to the semifinals. Lapine, off a pass from Logan Rumbolt, also scored an empty-netter with 11.5 seconds remaining to give Wahconah a 4-1 advantage.
W — Vinnie Orlandi (Nate Lapine), 0:52. W — Mike Moreno (Lapine), 2:05. SM — Matt King (unassisted), 12:06.
W — Orlandi (empty net, unassisted), 13:57. W — Lapine (empty net, Logan Rumbolt), 14:49.
W — Nico Romano 10. SM — Val Reopel 23.