ORLEANS – The Nauset boys hockey team’s season was seconds from being over.
Trailing by a goal in the final minute of Saturday’s Division 3 state tournament first-round matchup, Nauset sophomore Cam Connery scored for the 13th-seeded Warriors with 32 seconds remaining to tie the game at 2 and force overtime against No. 20 North Middlesex.
After eight minutes of scoreless 4-on-4 overtime, Nauset capitalized in the second extra frame — an eight-minute 3-on-3 period — when junior Logan Valine, a forward from Harwich, buried a shot into the top corner of the net to lift the Warriors to a 3-2 victory over the Patriots on Saturday at Charles Moore Arena.
“It felt amazing,” Valine said of his game-winner, which came with 1:54 left in the second overtime. “I was picturing it all day. It just had to happen — I just had to roof it.”
The victory sends Nauset (13-7-1) to the Round of 16 where it’ll face fourth-seeded Lynnfield at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday at McVann O’Keefe Rink in Peabody. North Middlesex finished its season with a 10-8-1 mark.
Valine’s goal put the exclamation mark on Nauset’s comeback and sent the Charles Moore crowd into a frenzy. It was a shared celebration, too — the Nauset players immediately skated toward the sidewall at the opposite blue line where they jumped, shouted and banged on the glass in unison with their peers who packed the school’s student section in the bleachers.
Emotions swept over the Warriors’ players and coaches faces. Moments after celebrating with the crowd, the players turned back and embraced the coaching staff, including Jake Pickard, the former junior varsity coach who took over as interim coach after varsity coach Drew Locke was fired in February.
“It took resilience, it took character, it took stick-to-itiveness,” Pickard said. “The boys really put it together in the last minute and they deserve everything they got.”
Pickard was quick to praise freshman goaltender Matthew Swanson, a Brewster resident, who made 25 saves for the Warriors.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s been big for us all season,” Pickard said. “He’s been playing like a senior — he carries himself on and off the ice at a very mature level for his age. We really appreciate him, he’s our backbone and our quarterback out there.”
Swanson admitted his nerves were amplified given what was at stake in the win-or-go-home tilt.
“I was a little more nervous because it was the playoffs,” the goaltender said. “We don’t want the season to end now. It was a little nerve-wracking, especially during the third period, overtime and second overtime. It was a tough game.”
Nauset senior Cooper Guiliano, an Orleans resident, gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead with 2:23 remaining in the first period. North Middlesex answered with a pair of shorthanded goals as TJ Murphy and Jimmy O’Keefe found the back of the net. O’Keefe’s goal gave the visitors a 2-1 edge with 7:29 left in the game.
The game saw about a 15- or 20-minute delay during the third period during which CMA staff replaced a portion of glass that cracked after two players collided in the corner. Once play resumed, Connery netted the equalizer before Valine sent the Nauset faithful home happy.
As if the Warriors needed any extra inspiration, Pickard found a unique way to excite the team before the game. The coach took off his winter hat to reveal a big block “W” shaved into the back of his head.
“It’s everything we’re about, hard work,” Pickard said. “It stands for work ethic and the worthiness of being a part of such a great opportunity.”
It also symbolized the “win” Nauset aimed for and eventually captured.
“I kept it under lock and we came out with the victory today,” Pickard said of the surprise haircut.
“It shows that he’s really dedicated and he’s really here for us,” Swanson said. “If he’s going to shave his head for a playoff game, it shows that he really wants it.”
Pickard described the last couple weeks as “a journey, to say the least” before noting that the players have embraced him and made the coaching transition as smooth as possible.
“The boys have been nothing but welcoming for me and I really appreciate their mutual respect for me and all of the other coaches in the locker room,” he said.
As exciting as Saturday’s walk-off victory was, Nauset’s players have their sights set on even bigger stages. They are determined to keep their postseason run going all the way to the state championship at the TD Garden in Boston.
“We just need to keep this going,” Valine said. “We need to keep playing our game and make it all the way to the Garden.”
The 20th-seeded Dennis-Yarmouth boys squad, a co-op team comprised of boys from D-Y, Cape Cod Academy and Cape Cod Tech, suffered a 3-2 loss to No. 13 Boston Latin Academy in the opening round of the Division 4 state tournament Thursday in West Roxbury.
The 27th-seeded Mashpee-Monomoy co-op team lost 7-0 at No. 6 Martha's Vineyard in its opening-round game Thursday on the island.
Email Brad Joyal at email@example.com.