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John Stark-Hopkinton jumps on Souhegan early to reach D-III title game

  • John Stark-Hopkinton boys celebrate after scoring a goal in their win against Souhegan Wednesday night, March 6, 2013, to advance to the Division III Ice Hockey Championship. The final game will be played Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    John Stark-Hopkinton boys celebrate after scoring a goal in their win against Souhegan Wednesday night, March 6, 2013, to advance to the Division III Ice Hockey Championship. The final game will be played Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Kyle Kolehmainen, right, and Souhegan's Vincent Silvestri, battle for the puck during the game Wednesday night, March 6, 2013. John Stark-Hopkinton defeated Souhegan to advance to the Division III Ice Hockey Championship. The final game will be played Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    John Stark-Hopkinton's Kyle Kolehmainen, right, and Souhegan's Vincent Silvestri, battle for the puck during the game Wednesday night, March 6, 2013. John Stark-Hopkinton defeated Souhegan to advance to the Division III Ice Hockey Championship. The final game will be played Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton boys celebrate after scoring a goal in their win against Souhegan Wednesday night, March 6, 2013, to advance to the Division III Ice Hockey Championship. The final game will be played Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Kyle Kolehmainen, right, and Souhegan's Vincent Silvestri, battle for the puck during the game Wednesday night, March 6, 2013. John Stark-Hopkinton defeated Souhegan to advance to the Division III Ice Hockey Championship. The final game will be played Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

The game was not yet five minutes old, and the scoreboard still read zeros, but it was readily apparent which team would dictate the outcome of the first of last night’s Division III boys’ hockey semifinals.

Employing its trademark tenacious forecheck, second-ranked John Stark-Hopkinton (18-1-1) kept Souhegan (14-6-0), the No. 3 seed, pinned deep in its own end. And the pressure paid dividends less than eight minutes in, opening the floodgates on a four-goal first period that the team rode to a 7-2 victory and a berth in Saturday’s title game, where it will take on No. 1 Berlin (20-0-0).

“We were forechecking hard, which helped the play. We kept it down deep, keeping the play going straight to the net. Everything that came out, we dropped it back down deep,” Stark-Hopkinton Coach Denis Kolehmainen said. “… We go strong on the forecheck and then we play a good team defense.”

Keith Galli provided that initial ice-breaker. Harassing the Sabers as they tried to escape their defensive zone, Galli swiped the puck off the stick of Souhegan’s Joe Nutting in the right circle and sniped a shot to the far side of the net for a 1-0 lead 7:52 in.

“There’s not just one scorer on our team, it’s a whole team effort. Everyone forechecking, that’s our game, that’s where we get our opportunities,” Galli said. “I was just going hard and it worked out for me.”

From there, the goals came fast and furious.

Just 33 seconds later, defenseman Alex Lajeunesse received a pass at the left point from Robbie Ferguson and squeezed a shot through goalie Ryan Peterson’s pads for a two-goal advantage. Four minutes later, more aggressive forechecking forced another Souhegan turnover in the neutral zone, and Simon Hunter snatched the loose puck, skated in alone and banged a shot off Peterson’s pads and in. Then, less than two minutes later, with John Stark-Hopkinton playing with an extra skater on a delayed penalty, the puck caromed off the backboards right to Callahan Loos stationed on the right post, and the freshman tucked it behind the goalie for a commanding 4-0 lead.

“From the first drop of the puck we came out flying. I don’t think they could keep up with us. We just forechecked really hard and played great team defense,” said Thomas Zervos, the anchor of a defense that allowed just 17 shots to get through to goalie Connor McDonald (15 saves). “Once we had the lead, we definitely carried it. Once that spark ignites, we just keep going with it.”

The goals kept coming after the break, as well, when Hunter’s shot from the right point hit the goalie and trickled behind him, where Garrett Thomas was there to poke it over the line just 38 seconds into the middle frame. Galli also assisted.

The Sabers found some life when John Stark-Hopkinton took a pair of penalties 25 seconds apart and Mike Hayden scored on the ensuing 5-on-3. But Stark-Hopkinton killed off the second penalty, thanks to some strong defensive work from blue-liners Zervos, Lajeunesse, Hunter Goss, Alex Olson and Cooper Bourque, then went right back to work offensively, scoring just 21 seconds after being back at even strength. With the puck pinballing around the offensive zone, Ryan Hawkes found himself unmarked to the right of the crease when the puck slid through the slot and onto his stick with a wide open goal in front of him. The goal gave Stark-Hopkinton six goals by six players.

“I roll three lines, and all three lines are equal, and all three lines can score,” Kolehmainen said. “Any three of our lines can match up with any of the first lines of the other teams.”

Hayden scored his second of the period to pull Souhegan within 6-2 at the end of two, but Lajeunesse’s second of the game 1:14 into the third – assisted by Kyle Kolehmainen and Jake Blanchette – returned the margin to five goals and kept the Sabers from any inkling of a comeback.

“It’s just the best feeling right now,” Zervos said. “It’s the best season we’ve ever had. We just want to keep it going.”

“We were going crazy in there,” Galli said outside the locker room. “It means so much to us. It’s a long season, and to come out of it being able to play for the championship, it’s what we’ve worked so hard for.”

(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or ssmith@cmonitor.com.)

John Stark-Hopkinton 7,

Souhegan 2

Souhegan (14-6-0) 0 2 0 – 2

John Stark-Hopkinton (18-1-1) 4 2 1 – 7

First period – 1, John Stark-Hopkinton, Keith Galli 10 (unassisted), 7:52. 2, John Stark-Hopkinton, Alex Lajeunesse 3 (Robbie Ferguson), 8:25. 3, John Stark-Hopkinton, Simon Hunter 10 (unassisted), 12:30. 4, John Stark-Hopkinton, Callahan Loos (unassisted), 14:11. Penalties – Alex Maresco, Sou (interference), 14:11.

Second period – 5, John Stark-Hopkinton, Garrett Thomas 11 (Hunter, Galli), 0:38. 6, Souhegan, Mike Hayden 20 (unassisted), 2:50 (pp). 7, John Stark-Hopkinton, Ryan Hawkes 4 (Jake Blanchette, Loos), 4:45. 8, Souhegan, Hayden 21 (Joe Nutting, Riley Connor), 8:23. Penalties – Alex Olson, JS-Hop (high-sticking), 1:59; Cooper Bourque, JS-Hop (elbowing), 2:24; Jon Ehrlich, Sou (too many men), 6:11; Vincent Silvestri, Sou (tripping), 10:58.

Third period – 9, John Stark-Hopkinton, Lajeunesse 4 (Thomas Zervos, Kyle Kolehmainen), 1:14. Penalties – Ferguson, JS-Hop (interference), 5:04; Matt Wilson, Sou (holding), 10:09.

Shots on goal – Souhegan 2-9-6–17. John Stark-Hopkinton 17-16-7–40.

Power-play opportunities – Souhegan 1 of 3; John Stark-Hopkinton 0 of 3.

Goalies – Souhegan, Ryan Peterson 12-6-0 (40 shots-33 saves). John Stark-Hopkinton, Connor McDonald 13-1-1 (17-15).

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