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Souhegan scores last goal that counts to topple John Stark-Hopkinton, 5-4

  • John Stark-Hopkinton players watch as Souhegan's Sabers accept their medals after being defeated 5-4 in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. <br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

    John Stark-Hopkinton players watch as Souhegan's Sabers accept their medals after being defeated 5-4 in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

    (Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton junior Kyle Kolehmainen takes a shot against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

    John Stark-Hopkinton junior Kyle Kolehmainen takes a shot against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.

    (Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton junior Robbie Ferguson scrambles after Souhegan junior Alek Medic during Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

    John Stark-Hopkinton junior Robbie Ferguson scrambles after Souhegan junior Alek Medic during Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.

    (Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton junior Robbie Ferguson drives the puck down the rink, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

    John Stark-Hopkinton junior Robbie Ferguson drives the puck down the rink, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4.

    (Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton sophomore Alex Lajeunesse throws out his arm as the puck flies away from him, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

    John Stark-Hopkinton sophomore Alex Lajeunesse throws out his arm as the puck flies away from him, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.

    (Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton sophomore Jacob Blanchette chases the puck, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

    John Stark-Hopkinton sophomore Jacob Blanchette chases the puck, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.

    (Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton senior Garrett Thomas maneuvers the puck, playing Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

    John Stark-Hopkinton senior Garrett Thomas maneuvers the puck, playing Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.

    (Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton players watch as Souhegan's Sabers accept their medals after being defeated 5-4 in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. <br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton junior Kyle Kolehmainen takes a shot against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton junior Robbie Ferguson scrambles after Souhegan junior Alek Medic during Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton junior Robbie Ferguson drives the puck down the rink, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton sophomore Alex Lajeunesse throws out his arm as the puck flies away from him, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton sophomore Jacob Blanchette chases the puck, playing against Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton senior Garrett Thomas maneuvers the puck, playing Souhegan in Division III finals at Verizon Arena in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Souhegan was victorious 5-4 to win the championship.<br/><br/>(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)

MANCHESTER – Two pucks nestled in the net in the final 3½ minutes. Only one counted.

And with that, Souhegan High players spilled over the boards to celebrate their first Division III hockey championship in six years, a 5-4 victory yesterday at the Verizon Wireless Arena over John Stark-Hopkinton, which was left to stoically mull the end of its title reign.

“I thought they played well. They were skating, they were passing, they were shooting,” Stark-Hopkinton Coach Denis Kolehmainen said of his Generals. “We had our opportunities, we hit the post, we just couldn’t put the puck in the net (at the end). We were just two seconds too late.”

In a game that featured four ties, including a fast and furious second period with six goals and three lead changes, it was the final 3:35 that proved decisive.

With the score knotted at 4-4, the teams skating 4-on-4 and second-ranked Souhegan (18-2-0) increasing its pressure in the offensive zone, Sabers leading scorer Joe Nutting slid into the slot and tipped in a pass from Alex Maresco for a 5-4 lead with 3:35 to play.

Almost immediately after the go-ahead goal, No. 5 Stark-Hopkinton (12-7-1) began 34 seconds of a power play, then had 20 seconds with a two-man advantage, but to no avail. Still a man up after the first penalty expired, Generals defenseman Alex Lajeunesse teed up a wicked slap shot from the left point that found nothing but net with 1:20 to play. But as the official by the net pointed to the goal, an official away from the play had his arm raised for a Stark-Hopkinton penalty, blowing his whistle a split second before Lajeunesse connected to nullify what appeared to be a tying goal.

“That was tough. I didn’t see the play, but he said that our guy hooked him. He blew the whistle right before he took the shot,” Kolehmainen said. “It’s tough. Those are the breaks.”

“That was terrible for us,” added Kyle Kolehmainen, the Generals’ captain. “I still can’t believe that they would call something like that in such a close game. But we thought we still had a chance. Our semifinal against Berlin we had to come back after being down and shorthanded. I thought that we really thought we could do it.”

He had reason for optimism. After all, it was a much more competitive game than the first two times these teams met, both Souhegan wins by a combined score of 12-3.

Yesterday, the game wasn’t yet a half minute old when the Generals struck. Lajeunesse tossed a shot on net from the left point, and when Souhegan goalie Connor McCall (14 saves) bobbled the puck, letting it slip behind him, Peter Sawitsky was there to stuff it across the goal line for a 1-0 lead.

“They came at us tonight like you can’t believe,” Souhegan assistant coach Gary Moore said. “We were fully expecting Berlin, but (Stark-Hopkinton) earned it. They earned everything. I’ve been here for six years and they’ve been a rival every time. They always give us a great game, but this one they really stepped it up.”

Neither team mounted much of a threat for the next eight minutes until Souhegan’s Matt Wilson and Mike Hayden came in on an odd-man rush. Wilson sent the puck left to right across the slot to Hayden, who switched the puck to his backhand as he cut back to the left and flipped the puck over goalie Josh Gagne’s blocker to knot the game 1-1 at 8:11.

About a minute later, Kyle Kolehmainen pinged the pipe for Stark-Hopkinton, but the score remained tied after one.

That was the calm before the storm of the middle period, when each team tickled the twine for three goals. And three of the six combined came on the power play after a penalty-free first period.

Once again, the Generals struck quickly, with Ryan Hawkes converting on a one-timer from Jake Blanchette just 27 seconds in for a 2-1 lead.

Souhegan tied it three minutes later on a Taylor Farrow power-play goal, then 2½ minutes later the Generals regained the lead on a Blanchette one-timer after tic-tac-toe passing from Sawitsky and Kolehmainen.

The Sabers pulled back even 1:38 later when Riley Connor scored off a rebound, then took their first lead of the game 1:12 after that when James Wilson converted on the power play.

This time it was Stark-Hopkinton’s turn to answer on a power play of its own. Robbie Ferguson sent a pass from the half-boards to Scott Olson at the right point. Olson rifled a high shot toward the cage and Garrett Thomas deflected it between McCall’s pads for a 4-4 tie.

“I get down on us because I know that we have to get two quick (goals) just to put them down,” Kyle Kolehmainen said of the teams trading goals in the middle frame. “When we score one, they score one, it’s hard to keep the momentum going in your favor.”

With the Generals forced to move Adrian McCarthy-Tiella from forward to defense after an injury to Cooper Bourque, the blue-liners – including Olson, Lajeunesse and Justin Bowen – did their best to keep a skilled Souhegan team from getting many open looks. And when they did, Gagne (20 saves) came up with several clutch stops in the third period before Nutting finally broke through, making the last goal that counted the one that counted most.

“I guess we know how it feels from both sides now,” said Kyle Kolehmainen, who was part of last year’s championship team. He’s also one of 17 players expected to return next year, something that may ease the sting of yesterday’s loss, if only slightly. “It gives us the strong mentality that next year we’ll be top dogs in the state and we’ll be able to come back here again next year, hopefully.”

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

Souhegan 5

John Stark-Hopkinton 4

Stark-Hopkinton 1 3 0 — 4

Souhegan 1 3 1 — 5

First Period—1, Stark-Hopkinton, Peter Sawitsky 6 (Alex Lajeunesse), 0:21. 2, Souhegan, Mike Hayden 19 (Matt Wilson), 8:11. Penalties—None.

Second Period—3, Stark-Hopkinton, Ryan Hawkes 8 (Jake Blanchette, Cal Loos), 0:27. 4, Souhegan, Taylor Farrow 4 (Alex Maresco, Matt Wilson), 3:31 (pp). 5, Stark-Hopkinton, Blanchette 22 (Kyle Kolehmainen, Sawitsky), 6:16. 6, Souhegan, Riley Connor 9 (Farrow, James Wilson), 7:54. 7, Souhegan, James Wilson 20 (Connor, Alek Medic), 9:06 (pp). 8, Stark-Hopkinton, Garrett Thomas 7 (Scott Olson, Robbie Ferguson), 9:28 (pp). Penalties—Lajeunesse, JS-H (tripping), 3:05; Kolehmainen, JS-H (high-sticking), 8:55; Medic, Sou (high-sticking), 9:14; Medic, Sou (high-sticking), 11:38; Mike Belanger, Sou (delay of game), 12:30.

Third Period—9, Souhegan, Joe Nutting 29 (Alex Maresco), 11:25. Penalties—Olson, JS-H (holding), 4:40; Sawitsky, JS-H (too many men), 10:26; Hayden, Sou (playing with broken stick), 11:00; Medic, Sou (cross-checking), 12:40; Loos, JS-H (hooking), 13:40.

Shots on Goal—Stark-Hopkinton 8-6-4—18. Souhegan 5-12-8—25.

Power-play opportunities—Stark-Hopkinton 1 of 5; Souhegan 2 of 5.

Goalies—Stark-Hopkinton, Josh Gagne (25 shots-20 saves). Souhegan, Connor McCall (18-14).

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John Stark-Hopkinton, Souhegan rule the roost in Division III

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In six of the last nine seasons, either John Stark-Hopkinton or Souhegan (or both) has been in the Division III hockey title game. 2006 Souhegan champion 2007 Souhegan champion, John Stark runner-up 2008 Souhegan champion 2009 Souhegan runner-up 2013 John Stark-Hopkinton champion 2014 Souhegan champion, John Stark-Hopkinton runner-up … 0

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