Avon Old Farms, in OT, Wins Seventh Div. I Title
Salem, NH – A rebound goal off the stick of senior forward Ricky Longobardi at 5:24 of overtime lifted Avon Old Farms to a 3-2 win over St. Paul’s in front of a packed house at the Icenter this afternoon.
The win gave Avon, and coach John Gardner, its seventh Div. I crown, and fourth in the last five years. And if that isn’t a dynasty, what is?
Avon, which finishes the season 27-1-0, walked through a veritable minefield in the playoffs, starting with an OT win over Berkshire, continuing on with a wild, tight game with Belmont Hill that could have gotten away from them, and finishing with today’s heart-stopping OT decision over an excellent St. Paul’s team.
The key to today’s game started last night, with the Avon coaching staff facing a decision over who to start in net. Max Fenkell had been shaky in the quarterfinals against Berkshire and was pulled after one period in favor of Parker Milner, who came through that day, earning the win, but then was very shaky in yesterday’s win over Belmont Hill. Gardner had to decide whether to go back to Fenkell today, or stick with Milner.
“At the hotel,” Gardner said, “everyone was asking me about it. Eventually, I decided that the best thing to do was sleep on it. This morning I talked to my captains and said, ‘What do you think I should do?’ They were unanimous about it – play Milner. Their point was simple: he got the job done twice, let him do it again. I think he played pretty well.”
In the first, Milner had it easy, stopping just five shots as St. Paul's had difficulty getting the puck down low and putting any kind of pressure at all on the Avon defense. Meanwhile, Avon’s forward did everything but finish, keeping St. Paul’s pinned in their end for long stretches, and just peppering senior Andrew Peabody, who was outstanding. Avon had one early power play and a 4x4 situation that, for all practical purposes, looked like a Winged Beavers' power play. St. Paul’s escaped the first with a 0-0 tie.
Avon struck early in the second on a great effort off a faceoff by Chris Wieland who, from his knees, and all twisted around, sent a backhander skidding along the ice past Peabody to give the Winged Beavers a 1-0 lead. Right after that, though, the game began to turn as St. Paul's, refusing to cave under the pressure, came back nicely, skating harder, forechecking harder, getting in on the Avon d-men quicker, and stretching the ice. St. Paul's, aided by a couple of power plays (to one for Avon), had a definite territorial edge for the remainder of the period. You could see their confidence building from the top down once the impressive #1 line of Ben Albertson-Jason Bourgea-Alex Davidson and the top defense pairing of Mike Daly and Cheyne Rocha began neatly moving the puck. As for Avon, they were missing the mark on a lot of passes. Even so, they were still getting their opportunities. Brad Peltz hit a post after a rare defensive zone turnover by Daly. Peabody was forced to make a great save on continuously dangerous Cam Atkinson. And, at the other end, Milner was called on to stone Davidson on a clean breakaway.
Just like on Saturday, the third period was a thriller -- different than the previous day, not quite as wild, but no less gripping.
Again, Avon scored early, just 2:06 in, when the Winged Beavers, using hard, short passes to work the puck down low, got Peabody moving, then finished the sequence with an emphatic flourish as Mike DiMare sent a pass back across the top of the crease to Peltz, who had plenty of net to shoot at. Now with a 2-0 lead, Avon continued to apply pressure.
A key point came at the 4:18 mark when DiMare was called for a hook – it was more of a trip, really -- and St. Paul's went on the power play. A little less than a minute later, following a flurry of shots, Albertson, with an assist from Bourgea, banged one inside the near post to cut Avon's lead to 2-1. St. Paul's, smelling blood, went on another power play when Paul Lee was called for roughing after going hard to the net and bowling over Peabody, but couldn't convert on the ensuing man advantage.Finally, with 2:22 remaining in regulation, Albertson hit Bourgea with a pass and Bourgea buried it low glove side to make it 2-2.
Neither team was playing to get the game to OT. The action was fast and furious for the final two minutes, and both teams had great opportunities as the play careened up and down the ice.
In overtime, the refs made a dubious call on Avon’s Chris Wieland just 1:27 in, whistling him for a hook, which was borderline at best – the St. Paul’s player took a dive on it, or at least milked it for all it was worth. Just 28 seconds later, in a makeup call that was worse than the original call, Rocha was called for a trip.
Play continued fast and furious. After Peabody made a great save on Lee, coming down on a scary 2-on-1 with Atkinson. After the 5x4 advantage turned into a 4x4, defenseman Lee Moffie clanged one off the post. Seconds later DiMare who, along with linemates Peltz and Wieland, has been on fire all weekend, clanged one off the same post.
It looked like the game might go to whichever team got the lucky break.
At about the same time, though, St. Paul's was beginning to look gassed while Avon, skating four lines, had a bit more jump. The Winged Beavers had that look, that fire in their eyes, like they knew this was their house and it was time to settle the issue. When the end came, it came quickly. Off a faceoff won by James Chamness, the puck wound up on Longobardi’s stick – and he buried it to set off the on-ice celebration.
“I'm really proud of my team,” said Gardner afterward. “They didn’t play a perfect game but in the end they persevered and I thought it was great that Ricky Longobardi scored the game-winner. He’s one of our hardest-working kids and he’s been here for three years, just a wonderful kid.”
Gardner was asked about the St. Paul’s comeback in the third. “We were up 2-0 and we started to throw the puck around a bit, making some bad decisions.”
As for overtime, said Gardner, “We hit two posts, and I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen for us.”
It did, of course, but it wasn't easy. “This year," Gardner said, "we really had to battle. Every one of these games has been a battle.”
Down the hall, St. Paul’s head coach Tim Pratt, said: “We have a great group and they just stayed with Avon all the way. I thought they showed a lot of character coming back. And when you get into OT anything can happen.”
“Peabody had an unbelievable tournament – he’s a big-time goalie. And the Albertson-Bourgea-Davidson line is the best line I’ve ever coached. They were something else. I have not seen defensmen who can handle them.”
Pratt was impressed with Avon, not just the obvious things, but the little things too. “One thing they did very well,” he said, “was put sticks in lanes and block passes, especially on the penalty kill.”
“This was certainly one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of," he added. "Our guys will be able to look back and appreciate what they’ve accomplished… it might take some time, though.”
Pratt didn’t mention, and we couldn’t enumerate, every scoring opportunity that St. Paul’s had. There were some golden opportunities, right from the opening minute when a puck rebounded out in front of the Avon net, sliding tantalizingly across the blue paint of the crease while a St. Paul’s forward swooped down on it. But Avon defenseman Brendan Rempel got his stick in there and pulled the puck out of harm’s way. It could have been 1-0 St. Paul’s right at the start, but it wasn’t.
Did Avon have luck on its side? Oh, yes, and then some. But, as Branch Rickey said, luck is the residue of design, and Avon, like all powerhouse hockey teams, has players that, if they are not highly skilled and fundamentally sound, are at least the latter. In other words, they don’t beat themselves. You may catch them with their guard a little down and stick a dagger in them quickly, as Kent did in handing them their only loss of the season back in mid-December. But when the game's on the line and it's getting late, they cash in their opportunties.
Ask the Tabor defenseman who, four years ago to the day, overskated a puck that had become stuck in an ice puddle, and watched helplessly as Augie DiMarzo swept in, scooped it up and buried it to give Avon a 3-2 overtime win in the 2004 prep championship game. That was the first of current skein of four titles in five years. The mojo has been been working ever since, though this year the Winged Beavers really had to sweat for it.
It’s a little hard to envision right now, but someday Avon will hit a bad patch and some other team will have their day in the sun, but right now watching the Winged Beavers do their thing is a lot of fun. And when a team like this year’s St. Paul’s team comes along and is able to take them to sudden death… well, let’s just say that the fans who forked over $5 for admission today got an awful lot for their entertainment dollar.
Haliskoe Goal Lifts Kents Hill to Div. II Championship
Greg Haliskoe's power play goal at 3:08 of the second period broke a 1-1 tie and senior goaltender Brian Fleming held off New Hampton the rest of the way to lead Kents Hill to a 2-1 win and the school's first NEPSIHA Div. II title here today.
Kents Hill played a very poised, controlled game, moved the puck well, and took advantage of their opportunities. New Hampton came out hard, took a lead a couple minutes in, and controlled play early, and played with a lot of emotion. However, down by just one goal in the late stages of the game, that same emotion got the better of them as some players lost their cool, and took dumb penalties that diminished New Hampton's chances of tying the game up.
Still, they almost did tie it up, as Casey Shaughnessy had a golden opportunity at the buzzer, but couldn't bury it.
In the first period, New Hampton opened the scoring, getting its only goal of the day when Patt Shortt fired one short side at the 2:20 mark. Assists went to Sam Demerling and George Jenkins. In the second, Kents Hill came back. Ben St. Germain scored just 53 seconds in, just by driving to the net -- through the net really -- with the puck crossing the line before the cage came off its moorings. Assists on the goal went to Trevor Crevatin and Greg Haliskoe. Kents Hill then got what would turn out to be the game winner when, on the power play, Haliskoe, a senior from Newtown, Conn., rifled one from about eight feet out at the 3:08 mark. Assists to Josh Goellner and Crevatin. New Hampton put heavy pressure on Kents Hill goalie Brian Fleming to end the second, but came up empty.
In the third, New Hampton had an early power play but couldn't convert. At even strength, Kents Hill did a nice job keeping New Hampton from setting up in their end and stringing much in the way of passes together. Then, over the last five plus minutes, New Hampton had to kill off two penalties (plus a misconduct), which seriously diminished their chances of getting that tying goal. Still, at the buzzer they came very, very close.
Kents Hill coach Larry Cockrell said, "New Hampton is fast and they were taking it to us early, and we weren't breaking it out well. But we stayed with out game plan. We talked about getting the puck deep and getting in on the forecheck. Once we settled down a bit and the D started looking for their partners we played well. And Brian Fleming played a very strong game -- that was key for us."
"Eighty percent of the team are seniors who have been here three or four years, since my first year," Cockrell added. "But we have a nice core coming back. There'll be a lot of rebuilding ahead but we'll take it from here."
As for New Hampton, they may have lost the game, but, under young coach Mike Levine, had a great year as well. While New Hampton had a strong hockey program back in the day, it had since been let go, pretty much abandoned. However, a few years ago, head coach Mike Levine, virtually right out of college, asked the school's AD if he could try and resurrect the program. And bring it back he did, right to the brink of a title.
"I thought," Levine said afterward, "that we came out strong in the first, but got complacent as the game went on. I'm disappointed, but my hat's off to Kents Hill. They are extremely well coached, and they work hard. Both teams worked hard."
Div. II Championship Game:
Div. I Championship Game:
Avon Old Farms 3, St. Paul's 2 (OT)
St. Paul’s 4, South Kent 0
Avon Old Farms 6, Belmont Hill 4
Kents Hill 4, Hebron 3
New Hampton 2, Roxbury Latin 1
3/1/08 We still have a little more updating to do on this.
Semifinals @ Salem, NH
Avon Old Farms 6, Belmont Hill 4 (Final)
Avon Old Farms carried a 3-2 lead into the third period of its Div. I semifinal against Belmont Hill tonight -- and then found themselves clinging for their life through a wild back-and-forth period that just wouldn't let up. Finally, a Brad Peltz goal with 6:51 to play put Avon on top for good. Avon added an empty netter in the final minute and their fans, who had packed the Salem Icenter, could finally exhale.
Belmont Hill played a great game and, from start to finish, hung with Avon every step of the way. Every time it looked like the Winged Beavers, with their four-line waves of attack, were about to drive a stake into their heart, junior goaltender Michael Condon would make a tremendous save, and his teammates, not unaccustomed to Olympic-size ice, would make another charge up ice. You could see the Belmont Hill squad gaining confidence as the game moved along and, as they kept asserting themselves, Avon began to bend and, at times, crack.
In the end, though, Avon was simply too good. They were the better, deeper team. They outshot Belmont Hill 46-29, but they knew they had been in a battle, one that they could have lost.
"I couldn't be prouder of our kids," said Belmont Hill head coach Ken Martin afterward. "They came out and played with a ton of heart all day. They just did a great job. It was a great game, but we came up a little short. Avon is a great team."
"I give Belmont Hill a lot of credit," said Avon head coach John Gardner. "Condon was very tough. They played hard and gave us a hell of a run for the money. In the third period there was a lot of ebb and flow. Every time we got a big goal they answered back."
"I don't want to take anything away from Belmont Hill," Gardner added, "but we didn't execute our game plan. If we play like that tomorrow, we aren't going to win. Thank God the Wieland-Peltz-DiMare line stepped up for us."
Belmont Hill made an early statment tonight, taking a 1-0 lead when Jake Moscatel walked out of corner uncontested and wrapped it around Avon goaltender Parker Milner far side at the 5:58 mark of the first period.
Avon almost tied it up when Cam Atkinson hit the crossbar seven minutes in.
Finally, Avon did tie it up, with 3:02 left in period when Quinn Smith, from behind goal line, hit Blake Forkey in front. Forkey put it top shelf. Condon had no chance.
Avon outshot Belmont Hill, 14-9, in the first, but Avon had far more shots from prime scoring areas, and were attacking the net hard.
Avon took their first lead of the night at the 7:12 mark of the second period, on the power play, when Brad Cooper's blast from the right point found the top corner. James Chamness picked up an assist on the goal, which came with four seconds left on a relentless power play that showed Condon at the top of his game.
At the other end, Belmont Hill came right back with an attempt to tie it up again. But it went for naught as Brendan McNally's shot clanged off the crossbar.
Avon went up 3-1 when, with the Winged Beavers again applying relentless pressure, Brad Peltz took a pass and cut diagonally across the slot, beating Condon far side at the 11:39 mark.
Belmont Hill coach Ken Martin called a time out to stop the bleeding, and it may have set the tone for the rest of the game.
Belmont Hill came back, when, with Mullane and Cooper in the box for a full 1:30 of 5x3, Dawson Luke found Mike O'Donnell at the far post and O'Donnell found daylight between Milner's right pad and the post, cutting Avon's lead to 3-2. Belmont Hill went to the dressing room a goal down, and with a hot goalie to back them up.
The third period was a wild one, and the fans, who created a din throughout the final stanza, had a ball watching it, though it probably gave John Gardner a few more grey hairs.
Belmont Hill tied it up early when, after Avon was pressing and the play turned up ice, Michael Blake fed Jason Sylvia and the senior busted down the right side and fired a low hard shot past Milner into the far corner to tie the game at 3-3 a the 3:12 mark. It was a statement goal, and it amped up the game's intensity.
Avon came back... and quickly, grabbing back the lead just 43 seconds later when Peltz banged home the rebound of a Lee Moffie shot, making it 4-3 Avon at the 3:55 mark.
And then it was Belmont Hill's turn to come back, and it only took them 23 seconds as, off a faceoff in the Avon end, freshman Brandon McNally got it to fellow frosh Connor Brickley who, exhibiting a ton of poise, cut to the net, held the puck until Milner committed, then buried it to tie the game at 4-4.
Suddenly, it looked like the two teams, both of whom played OT in the quarterfinals -- in Bel Hill's case, many OTs -- might just be headed there again.
The turning point came when Belmont Hill's Nick Metcalfe hooked down Avon's pesky Mike DiMare, and Avon's vaunted power play was given another opportunity to flex their muscle. Belmont Hill had killed off most of the penalty when DiMare spotted Peltz at the far side and Peltz ripped a high shot that rocketed high into the net, hitting the twine and flying back out. It was 5-4 Avon, but there was still 6:51 to play.
And a lot happened in that span. Jake Moscatel, a force for Belmont Hill all night, stripped Cam Atkinson in the Belmont Hill end and broke in alone but couldn't finish it off. Minutes later, with the teams skating 4x4 Milner came up with a couple of big saves to preserve the lead. With players from both teams in the box, Atkinson was called for a slash that gave Belmont Hill a 4x3 power play. Condon stopped Pat Mullane on a short-handed breakaway.
Finally, with just under a minute to play Condon raced to the bench for the extra attacker, but no one stepped on the ice for Belmont Hill. It took all of six seconds for Chris Wieland to grab the puck in the Avon end and send it the length of the ice, into the vacated net, to seal the deal for the Winged Beavers.
Tomorrow, they will face St. Paul's at 3:00 pm. Avon -- and John Gardner -- will be going for championship number seven.
St. Paul's 4, South Kent 0 (Final)
St. Paul's School got goals from four different scorers and senior goaltender Andrew Peabody shut down a potent South Kent offense to lead his team to a 4-0 win and a spot in Sunday's NEPSIHA prep championship against the winner of the upcoming Avon/Belmont Hill tilt.
The game was nowhere near as one-sided as the final score would indicate. We don't have the final shots yet, but have a feeling the edge in that department went to South Kent. Peabody was totally unflappable, holding his ground well and playing with poise. He seldom needed to make spectacular saves, relying more on good positioning.
St. Paul's got goals early in each period, and then added an empty netter for the final 4-0 margin of victory. The game had a nice pace to it, with skilled players making plays using the big sheet to their advantage.
In the first, St. Paul's struck quickly as Jason Bourgea came down the right side, turned the D as he skated below the radius of the faceoff circle, and tried to push it past SKS goaltender Tyler Scott. The rebound came back out front, and was just sitting there for Ben Albertson, who was coming down the wing. Albertson tapped it into the open net to give SPS a 1-0 lead. Defenseman Mike Daly also picked up an assist on the play.
Albertson hit a post with 50 seconds left in the period.
In the second, St. Paul's again struck early in the period. A key early save by Peabody kept the game at 1-0. Off a faceoff right afterwards, John Cronin put the puck on net and the puck rebounded to Sam Courcelles, who knocked it home to make it 2-0, St. Paul's.
South Kent kept at at and had two breakaways, both by John Tague.
St. Paul's extended their lead to 3-0 at 3:11 of the third as Ben Albertson set up Trent Blossom, who snapped one home from the right faceoff circle.
With 57 seconds remaining in regulation, Cory McGrath sealed it with an empty-netter for the 4-0 final.
"Andrew Peabody had a great game," said St. Paul's head coach Tim Pratt. "And everybody played hard. I was a little worried when we missed some opportunities in the second, but I thought we were able to wear them down a little as the game went along. We went to the net hard, and I thought we used the big sheet well. I thought that first group for South Kent was very good. They were great on the power play. Being able to shut them down was very important."
*** At Tilton, NH
New Hampton 2, Roxbury Latin 1 (final, overtime). New Hampton prevailed ove Roxbury Latin, 2-1, in overtime. Nick Maggio game winner at 12:43; assist to Kyle Stewardson. Pat Dunn came up big in net. Pat Shortt scored New Hampton's first period goal. More shortly.
Kents Hill 4, Hebron 3
Trailing 3-0 after two periods, Hebron almost pulled of an improbable comeback, notching three straight goals early in the third to tie it up at 3-3 before a bang-bang goalmouth jam-in by Kents Hill senior forward David Woods put his team up, 4-3 -- to stay.
Kents Hill advances to face the winner of New Hampton/Roxbury Latin tomorrow afternoon.
Goals by Brad Richard, 42 seconds in, and Greg Haliskoe, at the buzzer, gave Kents Hill a 2-0 lead after one. A Josh Goellner goal at 2:20 of the second made it 3-0. For the rest of the second, Hebron kept Kents Hill off the board.
Hebron came out with fire in their eyes in the third. Seven seconds in, David Woods barrelled down the left side and fired one past Kents Hill goaltender Brian Fleming to make it 3-1. At 2:04 Jason Goodman made it 3-2. Chad Goodwin tied it at 3-3 with a wide angle slapper at 6:40.
Hebron had a couple good chances to tie it up over the next 3-4 minutes. But it was Kents Hill that would get the next goal. On a 3-on-2, Nick Kolb, from the left side made a goalmouth pass to Woods who jammed it just inside the right post. The net went off a millisecond after the puck crossed the line, but it was a goal, fair and square.
St. Paul’s 4, South Kent 0
Avon Old Farms 6, Belmont Hill 4
Kents Hill 4, Hebron 3
New Hampton 2, Roxbury Latin 1
Div. II Championship Game:
New Hampton vs. Kents Hill,12:30 pm
Div. I Championship Game:
Avon Old Farms vs. St. Paul's, 3:00 pm