WOBURN – In their last two games, the Wilmington High School boys' hockey team has combined to give up between 75-82 (depending whose stats you take) shots, yet came out of those two games giving up just two goals and splitting the contests with a 1-0 loss to Reading and a 2-1 win over the defending Division 1 state champions of Winchester.
That's a lot of shots and for goalie Anthony Cuozzo, that's a lot of biscuits thrown at him. But the senior has been up to the task, playing extremely well in between the pipes, including 41 stops in Saturday's win over the Sachems.
"Anthony continues to play very well," said head coach Steve Scanlon. "He kept us right in there and he cleaned up his rebounds (after struggling with that in the season opening win over Belmont). He knew (about the rebounds) and I think it was just rust (from the off-season) and it was the first game of the season. He knew right after that game that pucks were getting off of him.
"In the Reading game, he was much better with it and kept everything real tight. There wasn't a lot of second whacks (at the puck) and if there were, he was right there. He's big and he's playing real tight to the puck so you're not getting the second one him if you are five inches away from him."
This is the third year that Cuozzo has been with the program, but he has yet to play in a full season. As a sophomore, he gave the team a lift playing in a handful of games during the regular season. Then last year he was tabbed the starting goalie to start the season. He played in 11 games and the team was 4-7-0 at the time. He helped the 'Cats beat Chelmsford to win the annual Haverhill Christmas Tournament and he also had strong performances in a pair of 2-1 losses to Burlington and Stoneham.
But the night before the team's 12th game, he was injured – off the ice, well, no, not really.
"I slipped on ice going to a team dinner actually, so that was pretty ironic," he said. "It's good to be back and help the team. I was pretty nervous that we wouldn't be where we are supposed to be, but so far we have all done good and living up to the expectations."
The expectations for the 'Cats this season are certainly higher than normal, considering the team returns a handful of veteran players, have several transfers, and a goalie, who certainly can be a difference maker — especially with the way he has played against Winchester.
"We haven't beaten them in a while so it means a lot just to get the win outright," he said. "This is pretty big, especially to beat them after what happened last year."
After Wilmington defeated Belmont in the season opener, Scanlon said that Cuozzo played well, but gave up an unusual amount of rebounds. Since then, that hasn't been the case.
"Last game (against Reading) I tried to control (my rebounds) a little bit more," he said. "I feel like I was able to take a swing at that (and be better with it). I'm just trying to grasp everything in tight and if not, then deflect shots up over the net and into the glass to get whistles."
In the first period against Winchester, the Sachems had a 15-1 shot advantage in the first period but Cuozzo turned them all away keeping the game scoreless.
"I just tried to keep the team up with their spirits and they kept going and never lost hope and we carried that into the second and third periods," he said.
Wilmington scored two second period goals to go up 2-0, but Winchester was able to get one back early in the third period on a tipped shot from the slot area, coming on a power play.
The score remained 2-1 and things got pretty dicey down the stretch, when the Sachems were on a 6-on-4 advantage in the final 70 seconds or so, but Cuozzo and company were up to the challenge.
"They like to get (their offense) set up at the points so they can get some shots down low and some tips," said Cuozzo. "We just had some struggles getting coverage at the top to take away those shots. They had some pretty big guys in front so they were able to pop (just) one in."
Cuozzo comes from a family of goalies and ice hockey players. His mother Gina (Martiniello) was an outstanding athlete at Wilmington High and is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. She excelled at field hockey and ice hockey at Providence College, while, Anthony's sister Rose was also an outstanding field hockey goalie at WHS and now playing at UMass-Lowell
Anthony also has several uncles who played at WHS, including Mario, who previously coached Andover to the Division 1 State semi-final in the 2006-’07 season.
Anthony said that he loves the game of hockey, enjoys being the goalie and that commitment certainly reached a new level from this past off-season.
"I lost a few pounds since last year, around fifty," he said. "I ran everyday, almost everyday, around five days a week. I ran probably two miles a day and drank a lot of water and that helped me a lot."
And it helped Wilmington beat the defending Division 1 state champions for the first time in seven years.