By Jim Tabor, contributing writer
BANTAMS HAVE SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT: STATE CHAMPIONS!
On Monday night, February 19, at the Waterbury Ice Center, the Harwood Boys' Bantam hockey team defeated a game but outclassed CVSA team for the state championship. CVSA scored a fluke goal 10 seconds into the first period, but after that, it was all Harwood. Parker Cadwell put in a nifty backhand 90 seconds later. A minute after that, Nik Laskaris did a Bobby Orr, bringing the puck the length of the rink, then feeding Joe Ducharme for the goal. The puck spent 9 of the game's first 10 minutes in CVSA's zone, and that was pretty much how the game went. Harwood took a 5-2 lead into the third period and added an empty-netter at the end to ice the championship on its home ice. After the game, Head Coach Scott Guyette had one answer to every question: "They played great. They just played great." Like champions, in fact.
HIGHLANDERS LOSE IN SEMIFINALS TO BURLY BURR AND BURTON
On Tuesday night, February 20, the Harwood Highlander Boys' Varsity Ice Hockey team lost a squeaker to Manchester's Burr and Burton Academy in the state championship semifinals at Gutterson Field House.
Harwood's team was fast, precise, persistent, and patient-all the things that earned them a 15-3 regular season record and two wins in the playoffs, including a thorough thrashing of Mount Mansfield Union on Saturday. Burr and Burton was also fast, precise, persistent, patient-and BIG. The B&B roster could have rivaled a DIII college team's, so full of 6-plus footers and 200-plus pounders. As it goes in boxing, so it went in hockey Tuesday night at the Gutt-the good big men beat the good smaller men.
The first period was great end-to-end hockey, with both teams managing five shots on goal. Only one went into the net, however, and it was B&B's, when Ben Brownlee scored a power play goal at 13:10, with assists by Trevor Pollock and Brendan McCarthy.
Energized by its lead in the second period, B&B's size began to tell, as did its comfort and stamina on big Gutt-sized ice. Early in the period, Sooner Dawson carried the puck the length of that ice, then put it precisely on the blade of Ben Brownlee's stick six feet in front of Harwood's goalie Austin Coles, who never had a chance.
Harwood came storming back in the third period, when Eric Sweet scored an unassisted goal at 11:28. That lit a fire under the Highlanders, who played the next 10 minutes like a team possessed, out-skating, checking, and shooting B&B, which seemed to wilt briefly under the attack. Their defense, however, remained rock solid. Again and again Harwood held the puck in B&B's zone, passing and trying to set up the good shot, which B&B never allowed them. With just over two minutes left, B&B's Matt Rosenthal went to the box for hooking, giving Harwood a golden opportunity to take the game into overtime. Alas, the Highlanders spent too much time passing and not enough shooting, as B&B killed the penalty. Coach Dave Morse pulled his goalie in the last half-minute, and B&B scored an empty-net goal to make the final score 3-1.
This was the Highlanders' third straight semifinal appearance, and its 11th semifinal appearance all-time.
QUARTERFINAL GAME HARWOOD VS. MOUNT MANSFIELD UNION
HIGHLANDERS CLAW MMU COUGARS
Mount Mansfield Union came into the Division II quarterfinals with more losses and fewer wins than Harwood, but one of those wins had been a 3-2 victory against the Highlanders on January 3. From the opening moments of their quarterfinal game this past Saturday, February 17, it was apparent that the teams were more alike than different-fast, balanced, their emphasis on precision rather than power, and blessed with excellent goalies. After a nervous first two minutes, Harwood found its rhythm, spending much of the first period in MMU's zone. Then, with just 10 seconds left in the period, MMU scored. It was the kind of last-minute backbreaker that could destroy a team's confidence-and its chance of winning.
Right from the second period opening faceoff, Harwood's confidence looked just fine. They quickly took control in time of possession, shots on goal, and mastery of the ice. MMU's best chance came on a dazzling breakaway just three minutes into the period, but Harwood goalie Austin Coles made an even more dazzling glove save to keep the game within reach at 1-0. Even though Harwood did not score during the second period, their dominance was so total that you could feel the pressure building against MMU like water behind a dam. It was only a matter of time before the dam buckled.
It finally collapsed in the third period. Skating two lines to Harwood's three, MMU simply could not resist Harwood's relentless offense. With scoring-standout-turned rinkmaster Nate Goss-Woliner quarterbacking from his defenseman position, Harwood kept boring into the fading MMU. At 6:37 in the period, big Ross McLeod scored with assists from Luke Sisler and Eric Sweet. Just three minutes later, Chris Martin, with an assist from McLeod, jammed the puck in out of a melee in front of MMU goalie Silas Wells. With a minute left, MMU pulled Wells, which did nothing but allow senior captain Nick Sisler to score with an unbelievable length-of-the-ice shot from behind his own goal line.
Four "P's" were the keys to Harwood's success all season and in this quarterfinal game: patience, poise, persistence, and precision. Despite going down a goal, they kept cool, playing their style of precise, keep-the-puck hockey (they outshot MMU 23-16) fuelled by tape-to-tape passes, deft poke checks, and sweet dekes that left MMU players spinning like tops on the ice.
After the game, Coach Dave Morse said, "My boys dug down deep for this one. I've only gotten emotional during a game once before, but it sure happened tonight." Having three lines was one key. "I think our third line won the game for us, giving us great energy on the ice the whole game," Morse noted. Another key was a third-period strategy change. "We had been working the net but started taking more shots from the points and going for rebounds, and it worked." Morse added one more "P" to the others: "Positive attitude. They never got down for a second."