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2022 NEPSAC CHAMPIONSHIPS

Elite 8

Salisbury Strikes Early; Tops Belmont Hill, 4-1; Repeats

Belmont, Mass. -- If you arrived more than five minutes late to Sunday's Elite 8 Prep School Championship Game, you missed a lot. Before a packed house, #5 Salisbury struck hard and fast, going up 2-0 in the first few minutes of the game. Belmont Hill, the #3 seed, quickly answered with a goal of its own at the five minute mark, but faced an uphill battle the rest of the way, ultimately falling short, 4-1.

The win gave Salisbury its second consecutive championship, seventh prep championship overall (one shy of Avon Old Farms' eight titles), and the sixth in head coach Andrew Will's 13-year tenure at Salisbury.

The postgame celebration was muted because, with 25 seconds left in the game, Salisbury senior defenseman Dane Westen, trying to move the puck along the half-wall in Salisbury's end, was hit hard into the boards by Belmont Hill forward Ronan O'Donnell, and collapsed to the ice.

When Westen went down, the capacity crowd turned silent. You could hear a pin drop. Westen, face-down, prone on the ice, was attended to for about 15 minutes before being taken off on a stretcher, and then to Mass General Hospital. After the game, Will was able to report that Westen had "full mobility, no numbness, and full sensation in his extremities." O'Donnell, who was assessed a major and a game misconduct, though the hit didn't look significantly worse than others in what was a rugged, physical game, was reported by Belmont Hill coach Brian Phinney to be "distraught." Tests later came back negative. Westen will be fine. But certainly a scary moment.

Getting back to the game, Salisbury, as is their wont, came out hard, and were buzzing down low from the opening faceoff. At 1:53, senior captain Oliver Frontini finished off a strong shift by beating goaltender Sam Scopa, Belmont Hill's standout sophomore, high to the short side for the early lead. Junior Trey Deere was given an assist on the goal.

Salisbury kept pushing, and senior Ryan Walsh, assisted by Lee Parks and defenseman Sam Hall, capitalized on a close-in shot that beat Scopa high to the short side to make it 2-0 at 3:33.

But Belmont Hill didn't fold up its tent, coming back a minute and a half later, as junior Brock Cummings banged home a rebound in front of Salisbury senior netminder Austin McNicholas at the five-minute mark, with defensemen Matt Biotti and Tom Goguen picking up the assists. Suddenly, it was back to a one-goal game.

Salisbury lost what was left of its early momentum when, on the first shift after Belmont Hill's goal, Salisbury senior forward Connor Driscoll was called for a cross-check. Three seconds after Driscoll's penalty expired, the Scarlet Knights were called for another, this time to junior defenseman Alex Zakrzewski. But Belmont Hill failed to capitalize on both opportunities.

The second period was a good one -- increasingly physical, especially for Belmont Hill's Olympic-sized sheet -- and with fewer scoring opportunities than the first. But a bit past the midway point, at 10:20, a broken play resulted in a two-on-one for Salisbury senior linemates Dylan Hryckowian and Lee Parks. At the right face-off circle, Parks dropped a short pass for Hryckowian. In the blink of an eye, the Northeastern recruit fired it past Scopa, who barely had time to react. The game's prettiest goal, easily.

The third period was even more physical, with Belmont Hill laying some heavy hits on Salisbury. It got the home fans back into the game, but too many penalties slowed the pace. With 1:28 to play, Salisbury senior Ben Poitras, from Zakrzewski, scored an empty-netter to make it a 4-1 final.

"In these big games," said Will afterward. "We want to be on our toes, and have that attacking mentality from the start. We wanted to get into the game and establish a sense of urgency. Those two goals were more than we hoped for."

"I knew they (Belmont Hill) were skilled, but I didn't expect the physicality. They're a terrific team."

Asked about his team's mediocre start to the season that had left them with a 5-4-0 record after the Flood-Marr, and had many wondering where their mojo had gone, Will said, "Lack of attention to details. We weren't trusting in the process. I knew if we committed to the process, we'd be OK. They stuck with it, and here we are today."

Belmont Hill head coach Brian Phinney, who spent seven years on Will's staff at Salisbury and thus knows the 'secret sauce,' said, "I don't think we had the energy or jam today. We still played well structurally, but this time of year you need a little extra at times."

"This was the most physical game we've played. Salisbury is big and they play a heavy game. You don't see many teams like that.

"We have to be wearing teams down to be successful, and Salisbury did a better job of that today."


***

LARGE SCHOOL CHAMPIONSHIP

Kent Tops Brunswick, 4-1; Watson, Hopewell Shine

Greenwich, Conn. -- Senior wing Cole Watson notched two goals and an assist, and sophomore goaltender Aiden Hopewell kicked out 34 shots to lead second-seeded Kent to a 4-2 win over top-seeded Brunswick in the Large School Championship Game before a packed house at Hartong Rink Sunday afternoon.

After a 'feeling-out' first period that featured a pair of power plays for both sides, but no scoring, Brunswick came out strong in the second, carrying the early play. But it was Kent scoring first when Watson took a nice cross-slot pass from sophomore defenseman Alex Bales, and beat Brunswick goaltender Brendan Holahan at 4:25.

Kent struck again at 11:49. Watson won the race to a dumped puck and cycled it behind the net to Providence recruit Geno McEnery, who found Dante Palombo out front. Palombo's shot beat Holahan 5-hole to make it 2-0, a lead the Lions would take to the second intermission.

Brunswick finally got on the board with a power play goal at 6:41 of the third when senior defenseman John Burdett, at the point, took a pass from Sloan Farmer and drilled a heavy shot that Kent sophomore goaltender Aidan Hopewell got a piece of, just not enough of. It broke through, cutting Kent's lead to one.

That was as close as Brunswick would get. Five minutes later, again on the PP, Kent added an insurance goal when Michael Hurst, from below the goal line, passed it out to Watson at the right faceoff circle. Watson beat Holahan short-side high, over the junior goaltender's glove hand.

About a minute later, at 12:33, Kent extended its lead to 4-1, again with the man advantage. Senior defenseman Joey Sciabarra, who runs the powerplay from the blue line, took a point-to-point pass and wristed a shot that beat Holahan 5-hole.

With Holahan pulled for the extra attacker, Brunswick sophomore Luke Drury, on a back-door tap-in, beat Hopewell with 1:13 to play, for the final 4-2 margin of victory.

Going into Sunday's game, Reinhardt, while respecting Brunswick's skill, also knew they were very young, with just two seniors. "We're older and play a heavier game," he said. "Our goal was to be physical, finish checks, get pucks deep, and make them play a 200-foot game. I think we did that."

Reinhardt also pointed to the Lions' penalty-killing and powerplay, on which they scored two goals.  

"The story of the postseason -- and season -- was our senior leadership," Kent head coach Dale Reinhardt said.

"It was a great year with a great group of guys. Twenty wins. Seven overtime games. We proved -- at times -- that we can play with anyone. It was a great bounceback year for the seniors, who only played five games last year. I didn't have to do a whole lot in terms of motivation."

"It's so great seeing them go out with this win."


***

SMALL SCHOOL CHAMPIONSHIP

Forselius, Beauton Lead #4 Pomfret Past #2 Gunn

Washington, Conn. --  In a rematch of the 2020 Small School Championship game, #4 Pomfret, behind two goals from senior center Nils Forselius and a 33-save effort from senior goaltender Kellen Beauton, took to the road and upset #2 Gunn, 4-2.

2020, of course, was the last time the prep championships were played, as COVID-19 wiped out the following season. In that game, played at Trinity College, Pomfret took a 3-1 first period lead, but blew it, losing 5-3.

This time around, Pomfret held a 2-0 lead midway through the second, but gave it back, as Gunn scored two to take a tie game into the third period, and Forselius's game-winner.

Here's how it went down.

In the first period, the pace was fast, with both teams going end to end, finishing checks, and playing physically -- everything you'd want in title game. Gunn had more zone time, but Pomfret defended well, taking care of the netfront and limiting Gunn's chances.

With both teams skating a man short late in the period, Pomfret struck first, on a tic-tac-toe passing play, from PG defenseman Josh Milso down to senior right wing Declan Chapman at the goal line and then to Forselius in the slot. Forselius fired it top corner, beating Gunn senior netminder Joey Lovullo at 15:02 to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

The quick pace of the first period carried over to the second. Gunn, traditionally good in transition, pressed hard. Pomfret, though, was able to make it 2-0 when a point shot hung up near the post, with players jamming at it. Eventually, the puck sprung free into the slot, where sophomore Jesse Heinberg backhanded it 5-hole at 5:44.

Pomfret was in a good position, but Gunn wasn't going away.

Right afterward, a questionable penalty on an open-ice hit by Declan Chapman put Pomfret down a man and put Gunn on the PP. And Gunn wasted no time, as senior Kyle Smith found some room to cut Pomfret's lead to 2-1 at 6:55.

Gunn kept the momentum, gunning for the tying goal. They got it late in the period. Pomfret, stuck on a long shift and struggling to clear the zone, left room for senior Julian Facchinelli, who fired a terrific shot over Beauton's shoulder to make it 2-2 at 15:27. And that's how the period ended.

The third period was a tense one, with no scoring until late in the period when Forselius picked up a chipped-out puck in the neutral zone and, with speed, separated from the defense and, from the blue line in, had himself a clean breakaway. He didn't waste the opportunity, burying it 5-hole to give Pomfret a 3-2 lead with 2:33 left in regulation. 

Gunn gave it all they had, looking for the tying goal, but Pomfret defended hard, blocked a couple shots and didn't give Gunn much space to set up in front of Beauton. Chapman scored an empty-netter with a minute left to make it a 4-2 game, which is how it ended.

"I was really proud of our guys," said Pomfret head coach Matt Goethals. "This was one of our better games of the year. Team defense was great, they were sacrificing the body, taking hits, winning battles -- a complete effort. In the biggest game of the year, they rose to the occasion and it was nice to see."

"(Beauton) was our MVP. To win a championship you need really good goaltending, and Kellen was really good for us -- consistently. He was instrumental to the run we had."

"I'm happy for the boys," Goethals added. "It's hard to win. I think our guys played their best hockey against St. Mark's (in the semis, a 1-0 win) and Gunnery. That's because they had to play their best defense in those games. They did the little things it takes to win hockey games."


 

* NEPSAC Championships Scoreboard *
Sunday, March 6, 2022

***

Stuart/Corkery Tournament (Elite 8)

#5 Salisbury @ #3 Belmont Hill, 5:00 pm -- Salisbury, 4-1
***
Martin/Earl Tournament (Large Schools)

#2 Kent @ #1 Brunswick, 2:00 pm -- Kent, 4-2
***

Piatelli/Simmons Tournament (Small Schools)

#4 Pomfret @ #2 Gunn, 2:30 pm -- Pomfret, 4-2


 

* Prep Semifinals Highlights *
Saturday, March 5, 2022

***

Stuart/Corkery Tournament (Elite 8)

#5 Salisbury Nips #1 KUA in OT;  #3 Belmont Hill Stuns #2 Avon


Salisbury 2 @ Kimball Union 1


A Ben Poitras goal at 8:37 of overtime lifted #5 Salisbury to a 2-1 win over #1 Kimball Union Academy.

Like so many goals in OT, this one came on a somewhat flukey play, as Poitras's shot from the right point looked fairly harmless -- not a lot on it -- but a KUA defender tried to stop it with his hand, and got enough of it that the puck was deflected, sailing over the glove hand of KUA goalie Dan Heroux and into the top corner.

The game started with the two teams feeling each other out, but the pace picked up in the second. At the 8:25 mark, a hard Dylan Hryckowian shot from the left faceoff circle rebounded to senior Lee Parks, who beat Heroux short side.

The scored stayed 1-0 until late in the third, when a quick give-and-go out of the right corner was finished off when Wildcats senior Will Blackburn found fellow senior Jaiden Moriello at the net. With 3:06 left on the clock, Moriello, a UMass-Lowell commit, beat Salisbury goaltender Austin McNicholas for his league-leading 33rd goal of the season.

That sent it to OT, and the eventual game-winner from Poitras.

The game was a good, fast, physical, hard-checking one, with odd-man rushes kept to a minimum, and teams generating offense off the cycle. There weren't many second chances as both teams defended well.

Shots on goal were 23-17 in favor of KUA, though Salisbury carried the play a bit more.

Salisbury will travel to Belmont Hill for Sunday's Elite 8 title game. Faceoff is scheduled for 5:00 pm. Salisbury will be gunning for its seventh title overall, and second straight Elite 8 title. (Salisbury beat Dexter, 4-0, on March 8, 2020, just days before Covid-19 brought the sports world to a screeching halt.)


Belmont Hill 4 @ Avon Old Farms 2

A James Fisher goal at 9:17 of the third period, from Teddy Stiga and Ronan O'Donnell -- that line's second goal of the game -- broke a 2-2 tie and turned out to be the game-winner. Belmont Hill would add an empty-netter for the final margin of victory.

Fisher's game-winner came just 46 seconds after Avon junior Charlie Gollob, from sophomore Joe Connor, had tied the game at 2-2.

Earlier, Belmont Hill broke out to a 2-0 lead on goals from senior Charlie Cave at 16:42 of the first, and O'Donnell at 5:56 of the second, Avon answered back just 56 seconds later, as senior Matt DiMarsico, from PG Brendan Fennell and senior Brennan Ali, cut Belmont Hill's lead to 2-1. And that's how the second period ended.

Avon would tie it up at two apiece at 8:31 of the third, with junior Charlie Gollob scoring, with an assist from sophomore Joe Connor. It was a short-lived tie: 46 seconds later, Fisher struck for the game-winner.

Avon's PG goalie, Connor Callaghan, stopped 31 of 34, finishing his season with a 1.27 GAA  and .948 save percentage.

Sam Scopa, Belmont Hill's standout sophomore goalie, stopped 29 of 31.

#3 Belmont Hill will host #5 Salisbury on Sunday (5:00 pm) for the Elite 8 title. Belmont Hill has won two titles, in 1985 and 1990. So it's been a while.


***
Martin/Earl Tournament (Large Schools)

#1 Brunswick Beats Nobles; #2 Kent Crushes Exeter

@ Brunswick 3, Nobles 2


Nobles scored the game's first goal, and the last. But Brunswick scored three in between, and that was the difference in this one.

Getting things started was Nobles' junior wing Austin Tasca, who was on fire in Wednesday's quarterfinal win over NMH, putting the Bulldogs up 1-0 at 11:43. But Brunswick had the edge in play in the first, and finally broke through on junior D Sloan Farmer's shot from the point with 28 seconds left in the period, tying the game at 1-1.

In the second, Brunswick took over. A James Shannon short-handed breakaway goal at 10:39 gave the Bruins the lead they would never relinquish. Drew DellaSalla, from Shannon and defenseman Lucas St. Louis, made it 3-1 at 16:01.

In the third, on the period's first shift, senior defenseman Aidan Lyons cut Brunswick's lead to 3-2. But that was as close as Nobles would get. Brunswick junior netminder Brendan Holahan (23/25) earned the win; Nobles sophomore Tyler Bloomfield (30/33) took the loss.

Shannon and DellaSalla each had a goal and an assist for the Bruins.

Nobles junior center Ben MacDonald, with a pair of assists, figured in both Nobles goals.

#1 Brunswick will host #2 Kent at 2:00 pm Sunday.


@ Kent 7, Exeter 3

Exeter held a 3-2 lead midway through the second, but the Kent Lions roared back with five unanswered goals to win this one going away.

The big gun for Kent was senior Jake Kraft, with four goals. Hard to top that. 'Smaller guns' were fellow seniors Michael Hurst and Max Resnick (3 assists apiece) and Dante Palombo (1g,1a). 

Kent sophomore goalie Aidan Hopewell (27/30) earned the win. His counterpart for Exeter, normally sure-handed junior Michael Salvatore (25/31), had a rough go of it.

#2 Kent travels to #1 Brunswick for Sunday's 2:00 pm title game.


***

Piatelli/Simmons Tournament (Small Schools)

#4 Pomfret Blanks #1 St. Mark's; #2 Gunn Tops #6 Governor's
@ Gunn 3, Governor's 1

Senior goaltender Joey Lovullo kicked out 24 shots and senior forwards Julian Facchinelli, Kyle Smith, and Ryan Novo scored one goal apiece as host Gunn topped Governor's, 3-1.

Sophomore Cam Russo scored Gov's only goal, midway through the third.

Gov's junior goalie Max LaCroix (31/34) took the loss.

This was the third consecutivve game that Gunn has won by a 3-1 score. They'll have another chance Sunday when Pomfret comes to town for the Small School Championship game.

This will be the second straight Gunn-Pomfret title game matchup. The two teams met in the 2020 title game, with Gunnery coming out on top, 5-3.


Pomfret 1 @ St. Mark's 0

Pomfret senior goaltender Kellen Beauton slammed the door on #1 St. Mark's with a 47-save shutout, while senior Declan Chapman, who was flying all day, scored the only goal his team needed.

Chapman put a backhander into the top corner after corraling a neutral zone pass from Matthew Spears and beating a St. Mark's defender at 9:56 of the second period. 

With 47 shots against, Beauton, a Connecticut College recruit, had some notable moments. St. Mark's freshman LW Richard Gallant had a point-blank shot early in the second. A couple of minutes after Pomfret scored its goal, St. Mark's star d-man Michael Fisher had a great scoring opportunity, but his shot hit the shaft of Beauton's stick and dropped to the ice inches from the goal. A Pomfret defender was able to sweep it from danger. 

St. Mark's strongest period was the first. The Lions managed to keep the puck in the Pomfret end for lengthy stretches, and were buzzing. But they couldn't score, despite the zone time and the heavy pressure. Also, Grade A chances were tough to come by as the Pomfret defensive corps did an outstanding job tying up St. Mark's forwards down low, and keeping shots to the outside. Pomfret also did a good job being generally aware of Fisher whenever he was on the ice, which seemed like all the time.

For St. Mark's, senior goaltender Adam Costley (23/24) was excellent in defeat.

As the game moved into the third period, the tension was palpable.

"It was great to see our guys play with such poise," Pomfret head coach coach Matt Goethals said. "They bent, but didn't break. They won battles, blocked shots, and just to see them gut it out like that was fun."

As for Beauton, "He's improved so much over the last two years. And this was probably his best game."

Pomfret advances to the Small School title game and travels to Gunn for a 2:30 pm start. In the last Small School Championship, in 2020, The Gunnery, as the school was then named, beat Pomfret, 5-3, at Trinity College.



Around the Rinks

Nobles freshman G Thatcher Bernstein was named MVP of the 2021 Flood-Marr Tournament. Bernstein gave up a total of 3 goals over 3 games.
Nobles freshman G Thatcher Bernstein was named MVP of the 2021 Flood-Marr Tournament. Bernstein gave up a total of 3 goals over 3 games. (Photo: Dave Arnold Photography)
 
Senior F Shane Jellison's third period goal lifted Middlesex to a 3-2 win over host Berwick Friday.
Senior F Shane Jellison's third period goal lifted Middlesex to a 3-2 win over host Berwick Friday. (Photo: Dave Arnold Photography)
 
Brunswick sophomore F Brendan Giles (#19) scored the third period goal that broke a 0-0 tie vs. Exeter in Sunday action at the Exeter Invitational. Gi
Brunswick sophomore F Brendan Giles (#19) scored the third period goal that broke a 0-0 tie vs. Exeter in Sunday action at the Exeter Invitational. Giles then assisted on the second goal, a shorty from Eli Friedman. Brunswick rolled from there, adding two more to take a 4-0 decision. The Bruins won both their games here, and opened some eyes. (Photo: Dave Arnold Photography)
 
Williston D Ronan Robinson tries to halt Avon sophomore LW Joe Connor in Wednesday action. Avon won, 4-0. Connor scored Avon's third goal.
Williston D Ronan Robinson tries to halt Avon sophomore LW Joe Connor in Wednesday action. Avon won, 4-0. Connor scored Avon's third goal. (Photo: Isaac Archambault)