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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Panthers Seeking Playoff Berth With Trip to Vineyard

The Panthers (7-8-4) seek their first tournament seed since 2008-09.
For the second straight season, it will come down to one game. One forty-five minute session, on the road, with their own destiny in the palm of their hand. The Whitman-Hanson Panthers will board a ferry across the water to Martha's Vineyard on Friday morning with their minds set on turning the tables and earning their first postseason birth since the 2008-09 season.

One year ago last Thursday, the Panthers rolled into Mansfield's barn in the exact same situation -- win and you're in. Two points and you're tourney-bound. In that game, Whitman-Hanson had some late heroics, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead with six minutes to go. Six minutes of scoreless hockey would send the black and red to the playoffs. And when their hearts were broken by Mansfield's game-tying goal with 23.4 seconds left, the bitter taste was embedded in the mouths of a hockey community. This weekend, our group of high-schoolers will look to rid themselves of that lingering pain.

Postseason dreams are always at the forefront of a player's mind. Fittingly for the Panthers, they will get a chance at redemption in more than just one area -- the last time they dropped the puck against Martha's Vineyard was in the first round of the 2009 MIAA Division II tournament, a game that quickly and brutally ended their hopes of a deep postseason run. On Friday, Whitman-Hanson will be trying to earn another shot in that very same tournament, and they will have to go through those Vineyarders for two hard-earned points in order to do it.

Tom Leonard:   7-8-4,   2.99 GAA,   .892%
The black and red will be relying on a solid all-around attack in their single most important game of the season. Per usual, they will be looking for a strong performance between the pipes from senior goaltender Tom Leonard. A first-year Panther, Leonard has been a workhorse all season for this team. Having played 874 minutes heading into this contest (97% of the team's minutes), he has been as solid as Coach Manning could have asked entering the season. With a goals-against-average below 3.00 and a saves pecentage nearing .900, his numbers have been there for a team that has needed his consistent production. The Panthers will look for more of the same out of Leonard on Friday evening.

A strong performance from their goalie won't be the only thing necessary for Whitman-Hanson, though. Their captain, junior defenseman AJ Glynn, will look to lead the charge in the biggest game of his career thus far. Glynn was around for both of the previously described bitter losses in the past few seasons, and he will be as hungry for redemption as anyone. With a team-leading +5 rating (tied with Chris Boussy and Scott McArthur), Glynn's physical presence will be a key to the game for the Panthers. The back end will be anchored by their big, strong defenseman, and the offense will come from all around the squad. WH's top three scorers this season are from three different classes -- sophomore Chris Boussy (18 pts), senior Scott McArthur (16 pts), and freshman Charlie Murphy (14 pts) have all had impressive seasons thus far. Getting goals from five different players in their final two games, the offensive attack will seek balance once again in what the coaching staff, fans, and players all hope will be a successful effort on the road.

Regardless of the outcome, each of the players boarding that ferry on Friday morning will bring back unforgettable memories with them on Saturday. But I, too, was a hockey player, and hockey players don't have the same mindset as your everyday human being. Each of the 20 young men that have pulled on the Whitman-Hanson sweater this season will be pulling for the same result. Win or go home, boys. You get to deal the cards.

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