A victory for the Harwood varsity boys’ ice hockey team last week secured the Highlanders’ first state title in the Division 2 championships in 15 years. At the Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington last Wednesday, March 11, the Harwood Highlanders beat the Milton Yellowjackets in overtime with a final score of 3-2.
The teams were tied in overtime when Harwood’s Skylar Platt, a sophomore, scored the winning goal. Platt skated by two Milton defenders before shooting the final goal, sending the Harwood team and fans reeling in celebration. “Give him that much time and space, and he’s gonna make you pay for it. And he absolutely did,” said coach Jacob Grout on Skylar Platt’s winning goal.
“The best part about his goal was, a lot of sophomores and players in general, when they get an opportunity like that, they want to go top shelf. They want to score a pretty goal, a highlight reel goal. But Sky kept his puck right on the ice,” said Grout. “As a sophomore, that takes a lot of maturity in the game of hockey to say, OK, this is not the time to roof it. This is the time to win it right here. Sky did that. He took the shot he needed to take. Having a player, especially a sophomore, do that – that’s unheard of.”
During practice leading up to the game, the Highlanders practiced low shots like this. “We really focused on getting our shots nice and low. Tyson’s shot was picture perfect for what we had worked on the day before: just trying to get pucks on the net,” said Grout, referring to Tyson Sylvia’s goal.
The Highlanders knew what they were up against: Milton’s goalie, Jackson Ehler, is known for his unstoppable goal-side block. Still, the Highlanders saw this as a challenge, not a threat. “Milton’s goalie was so good glove-side that I wanted them to stay away from it. But the thing about Sky and Finn is, you say something like that and they see it as a challenge. It’s a great aspect of their game,” said Grout.
Grout also attributes the boys’ success to their dedication in practice. “You just remind them of what we worked on in practice, and as soon as you remind them of that they do it without knowing it. In practice, they do it repetitively. It just becomes muscle memory,” said Grout. “A lot of the goals we produced in playoffs were off of the silly little drills that we do in practice, drills that maybe not everybody’s working on. We were able to produce right a few goals in playoffs for it, hunker down and get the win.”
Right before the Highlanders hit the ice, Grout told the team to play like their childhood idols. “Just believe in yourself,” Grout told his team. “And if for whatever reason you don’t think that you can do it for yourself, think about that little kid that you used to be, watching the varsity players, wanting to be like them. Put yourself in that kid’s shoes again: Would he be proud watching you? Would you be his idol?”
In the end, not only did the Highlanders play like their idols, they played like a family. “After the game, Sky Platt stood up and was talking about how we came together as a family. He did not say ‘I.’ He didn’t say ‘me.’ He didn’t say ‘I won the game.’ He said it was a team win. Everybody came together and got the big win together,” said Grout.
The team celebrated the win with a trip to Al’s French Fries. They also had an impromptu parade at home. “When we got back into town, the Waterbury Fire Department gave us a parade through town,” said Grout.
Grout gave a special shoutout to seniors Ollie Hammond, Jake Cantwell, Luke Spaulding and Stefan Davis. “We had probably one of the best captains that Harwood has ever seen, Ollie Hammond. It’s not an easy job being a captain and it sure isn’t an easy job being that captain of the No. 1 team, trying to keep everybody’s heads right and keep everybody in agreement with the coaches,” said Grout. “Also, Jake Cantwell, Luke Spaulding and Stefan Davis stepped up big this year. They got their first goals of their careers in their senior years. That was the highlight of my year: seeing the team come together to get those guys their goals this year and support them. It was a good sendoff for the senior class for sure.”
For Grout, the championship was merely the cherry on top of a great season. “This was a dream season to have regardless of whether they won the championship or not. This was an incredible group of guys.”