WESTFIELD -- Coming into Wednesday evening's regular-season finale between No. 9 South Hadley hockey and Southwick, Tigers coach Larry Camus only had one thing on his mind.
"We wanted to win this one before going into the playoffs," Camus said. "You never want to finish the regular season on a low note, so I ultimately asked the guys to step up."
The message was received, as Anthony Cigal finished tied with a game-high 24 saves to lead South Hadley to a 4-1 victory over the Rams at Amelia Park.
"We've been doing the same thing all year, and that's moving the puck and playing as a team," Cigal said. "Aside from making sure we also played well defensively, that was it -- I'm proud of the guys' efforts."
Matt Brunelle (two points), Michael Mazza (two points), Joe Meon (two points), and Ryan Tucker (one point) each scored one goal to help the Tigers (10-7-2) record the win.
"It was very crucial to have some support on the offensive end tonight," Cigal said. "We just have to stick together and keep playing as a team since we're now rolling into the playoffs."
Southwick, meanwhile, concluded its winter with a record of 8-11 and also had to bid farewell to a pair of seniors in Nick Ensign and Noah Jubb.
"You know, I would've loved for my two seniors to go out on a high note, but I can't commend the heart they put into this team," Rams coach Chris D'Angelo said. "Throughout the game, they were constantly helping the younger guys adjust."
Following four consecutive failed shot attempts by Southwick during the opening minutes, Thenis Tsilibocos connected with Tucker for his then team-leading 20th point to give South Hadley an early 1-0 lead.
Before the period's conclusion, Ensign forced a turnover and saw open ice. Once the senior closed in on Cigal, Cole Hambley came from behind to keep it a one-goal game through 15 minutes of action.
"That was a clutch play," Cigal said of Hambley's last-minute effort. "I have to give him props for that because he helped keep us ahead."
Fewer than four minutes into the second, the Tigers earned the games' first power-play attempt after Bryce Russ was called for tripping. Shortly thereafter, Brunelle doubled his team's lead to 2-0 after beating Rams goalie Andrew Morris (24 saves) five-hole. Hambley tallied the lone assist on the drive.
With Southwick still trailing entering the third, back-to-back calls gave the Rams a prime 5-on-3 opportunity. The Rams, however, were unable to capitalize on five consecutive attempts as defensemen Cam Peete and Cigal kept the opposition off-balanced.
"Honestly, I was a little tired during that stretch," Cigal said. "But we just had to continue doing our jobs."
During the 33rd minute, Jesse Johnson helped Southwick spoil the potential shutout with his first goal of the season to make it 2-1.
South Hadley, however, responded with two more goals to secure the win.
"It was great to get those extra points because that allowed me to take out our regular starters," Camus said. "I was also able to play some of the guys that don't normally get much time because you never know when you'll need them in the playoffs."
Despite the loss, D'Angelo couldn't be more proud of how far Southwick has come since the program first originated.
"After a tough opening season in 2018-19, to a team that finished one game away from qualifying for the postseason ... words are hard to describe how pleased I am with this group," he said. "I'm excited to see what's next for us."