Byline: Dave Nordman
MARLBORO - Five minutes after last night's Central Mass. quarterfinal had ended, Gardner hockey coach Jean-Guy Gagnon shuffled slowly across the New England Sports Center ice and gave an emphatic thumbs-up to no one in particular.
It was declaration of success - and relief.
After falling behind by two goals in the game's first 3:29, the ninth-seeded Wildcats responded with seven unanswered goals to overwhelm top-seeded Grafton, 7-2, before a rowdy, face-painted, bare-chested crowd of over 1,500.
Gardner (13-6-3) will face fifth-seeded Fitchburg (16-5-1) in a semifinal here at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow. The winner will advance to the final at 1 p.m. Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Grafton finishes the best season in school history at 18-2-1.
To call this game an upset would be a bit misleading. After all, the Wildcats play in the best conference in Central Mass., while the Indians play in the weakest. Still, Grafton gave Gardner all it could handle early on.
Goals by Tim Thiesing and Chris Weilondt gave the Indians a 2-0 lead before the ice was barely dry.
"It's tough playing a team you know nothing about," Gagnon said of the upstart Indians. "We found out pretty quickly what they had. They had speed, they had hands and they had pretty good shooters."
Grafton soon found out Gardner had plenty of speed, hands and shooters, too.
Evan Wernicki's hard shot from the right blue line never left the ice, but avoided traffic and beat Indians goalie Joe Iadarola (40 saves) inside the right post 3:30 into the second period.
Less than a minute later, Lukas Paine pulled the Wildcats even, faking a pass while on a 3-on-2, then wristing a shot off Iadarola's catching glove and under the crossbar.
Damian Bludget gave Gardner its first...