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John Stark-Hopkinton upsets Berlin in OT to claim hockey crown

  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Simon Hunter reacts and his teammates start spilling out of the box to celebrate after Hunter scored the winning goal in sudden death overtime during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark-Hopkinton's Simon Hunter reacts and his teammates start spilling out of the box to celebrate after Hunter scored the winning goal in sudden death overtime during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Jacob Blanchette pushes past Berlin's Trevor Labrecque during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark-Hopkinton's Jacob Blanchette pushes past Berlin's Trevor Labrecque during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Robbie Ferguson (29) and Peter Sawitsky (26) push back against Berlin's Jeff O'Neil during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark-Hopkinton's Robbie Ferguson (29) and Peter Sawitsky (26) push back against Berlin's Jeff O'Neil during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Connor McDonald protects the goal in the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark-Hopkinton's Connor McDonald protects the goal in the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark-Hopinton's goalie Connor McDonald gets a hug from his teammate Thomas Zervos after they won the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark-Hopinton's goalie Connor McDonald gets a hug from his teammate Thomas Zervos after they won the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Simon Hunter reacts and his teammates start spilling out of the box to celebrate after Hunter scored the winning goal in sudden death overtime during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Jacob Blanchette pushes past Berlin's Trevor Labrecque during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Robbie Ferguson (29) and Peter Sawitsky (26) push back against Berlin's Jeff O'Neil during the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark-Hopkinton's Connor McDonald protects the goal in the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark-Hopinton's goalie Connor McDonald gets a hug from his teammate Thomas Zervos after they won the Division III boys' hockey championship, March 9, 2013 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

MANCHESTER – Simon Hunter could hardly believe it. One moment he was all alone, an errant Berlin clearing pass landing squarely on his stick. The next moment he was pinned against the boards, awash in a sea of blue uniforms after his overtime goal gave John Stark-Hopkinton its first hockey championship, 3-2 yesterday in the Division III title game.

“I never would have thought, senior year, to get the game-winning goal in overtime in the championship,” Hunter said above the music blaring from the victors’ locker room in the bowels of Verizon Wireless Arena. “It was a gift.”

After 45 minutes of regulation and 11 1∕2 more of sudden death, Hunter squashed the dreams of an undefeated season for one of the most storied hockey programs in the state and helped his Generals raise the championship plaque for the first time in their 14-year existence.

Anticipating a Berlin breakout pass up the middle, Hunter curled around one Mountaineer and saw Nathan Trull’s pass headed up the slot right toward him. He took a couple of strides and sent the puck crashing into the top of the net, popping the goalie’s water bottle into the air and popping off a wild celebration behind the net.

“That was probably the best pass I got all game,” Hunter joked.

“I told them between periods, ‘We’ve dreamt about this our whole life. Someone has to score a goal, and it better be someone in blue,’ ” John Stark-Hopkinton Coach Denis Kolehmainen said.

“We knew what we had to do. Offensive forecheck, bottle them up, force them to make mistakes, and they made a mistake on that last play. And that’s what we were looking for all game. Force, force, force, and sooner or later they’re going to give you the opportunity to cash in on it.”

It was a drastic turnaround from when the teams met seven weeks ago in Berlin. The top-ranked Mountaineers (20-1-0), in the midst of their 20-game winning streak, won 8-2, the lone loss for the No. 2 Generals (19-1-1). But Stark-Hopkinton was missing three players, and had starting goalie Connor McDonald leave with a concussion in the first period.

“We had everything going against us,” Hunter said of that earlier game.

This time, with a full complement of players and McDonald on top of his game in the crease, the Generals matched Berlin nearly shot for shot and never trailed.

“We were determined to beat them. We thought we were the one team that could show the rest of the state that they weren’t going to run over everyone,” said McDonald, who finished with 30 saves, including six in overtime. “We weren’t scared to go up against Berlin; we wanted to go up against Berlin.”

It showed when John Stark-Hopkinton got on the board first, and shook off any butterflies in the process, with a power-play goal just 3:53 in. With Berlin’s Trevor Leborgne off for slashing, Kyle Kolehmainen corralled the puck near center ice and carried it up the right wing boards before sliding a pass through the slot to the far post, where Peter Sawitsky put the puck on his backhand and flipped it into the net for the early lead.

Berlin’s best chance in the opening period came in the closing minutes, when Connor Jewett, the state’s leading scorer, broke in alone, but McDonald denied the bid – and Berlin’s ensuing shot on the rebound – to keep the Mountaineers at bay.

“He’s been playing great for us all season and he was all over the place. He was big today,” Coach Kolehmainen said of his netminder. “He was stopping pucks that I couldn’t believe.”

Berlin finally broke through in the second, sandwiching a pair of goals around one from Stark-Hopkinton to make it 2-2 heading into the final period.

Stark-Hopkinton’s feisty forecheckers limited Berlin to just three shots – all saved by McDonald – on an early power play, but the Mountaineers got on the board just a minute after the man advantage expired. Zach Blanchette received the puck from Trevor Labrecque and slid it through the slot to Brandon Poulin, who buried a one-timer from the right side.

Less than two minutes later, however, after Berlin goalie Shane Mailhot had denied a pair of Stark-Hopkinton bids, Simon Becka got his team the lead back. Working hard down low, Jake Blanchette snapped off a shot from the left goal line. When the puck squirted through the crease, Becka was there at the right post to backhand it in for a 2-1 lead.

Berlin pulled right back even two minutes later when Jewett picked up the puck at the top of the left circle, went hard to the goal line and beat McDonald to the near side with a tough-angle shot.

“It’s nerve-wracking,” McDonald said of facing Jewett, who averaged a hat trick a game this season. “I knew he had scored on a lot of goalies, and I knew we needed to shut him down. I think I did a decent job. He only got one (goal), and that was a bad goal by me.”

And that was the last puck to get past McDonald, as well. Twice in the third period McDonald denied Justin Vien, Berlin’s second leading scorer, and two other times Jewett saw his shots slide just wide of the post, including once with 3 1∕2 minutes left in regulation.

Meanwhile, the Generals were on the power play for 6 1∕2 minutes during the third period and another 36 seconds early in overtime, but couldn’t generate many chances.

“Our power play was just pathetic. I was going to decline the penalty,” said Kolehmainen, able to joke about it after the fact. “We were throwing the puck around all over the place.”

Fortunately for Stark-Hopkinton, McDonald and his blue line crew of Hunter Goss, Thomas Zervos, Alex Lajeunesse, Alex Olson and Cooper Bourque were up to the task.

“(Since the playoffs began), the defense played the best it has all year,” McDonald said. “I’ve never had a defense like that in my life.”

While Kolehmainen opted not to shadow Jewett, his players were certainly aware of his presence every time he jumped the boards. And though they were able to limit his chances, he did have quite a few, but McDonald was there to thwart them.

In overtime, the junior goalie stoned Jewett from low on the goal line, he saved a Jewett backhander from in close, and he denied him on a shot from the bottom of the right circle, when Berlin failed to clean up the rebound left bouncing in the crease. And when Jewett broke in on a 2-on-1, Mike Lemoine wasn’t able to control the pass, all setting the stage for Hunter’s heroics.

“To win a state championship,” Kolehmainen said, “overtime winner, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

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

John Stark-Hopkinton 3 Berlin 2, OT

John Stark-Hopkinton (19-1-1) 1 1 0 1 — 3

Berlin (20-1-0) 0 2 0 0 — 2

First Period—1, John Stark-Hopkinton, Peter Sawitsky 5 (Kyle Kolehmainen), 3:53 (pp). Penalties—Trevor Leborgne, Ber (slashing), 2:18.

Second Period—2, Berlin, Brandon Poulin 5 (Zach Blanchette, Trevor Labrecque), 6:59. 3, John Stark-Hopkinton, Simon Becka 19 (Jake Blanchette), 8:48. 4, Berlin, Connor Jewett 61 (Justin Vien, Mike Lemoine), 10:56. Penalties—Alex Lajeunesse, JS-Hop (holding), 3:44.

Third Period—None. Penalties—Jeff O’Neil, Ber (tripping), 0:41; Cody Fauteux, Ber (holding), 6:07; Fauteux, Ber (tripping), 10:35; Leborgne, Ber, major (roughing), 11:40; Callahan Loos, JS-Hop (roughing), 11:40; Robbie Ferguson, JS-Hop (holding), 14:04.

Overtime—5, John Stark-Hopkinton, Simon Hunter 11 (unassisted), 11:30. Penalties—None.

Shots on Goal—John Stark-Hopkinton 6-10-5-4—25. Berlin 9-10-7-6—32.

Power-play opportunities—John Stark-Hopkinton 1 of 5; Berlin 0 of 1.

Goalies—John Stark-Hopkinton, Connor McDonald 14-1-1 (32 shots-30 saves). Berlin, Shane Mailhot 8-1-0 (25-22).

Legacy Comments3

This is pure sport at its best. Congrats to both teams.

Forgotten coincidence: Ten years ago, Monadnock High School (which, unfortunately, no longer has a hockey team) beat previously unbeaten Kennett 3-2 in overtime for their only championship

WAY TO GO JOHN STARK!!!!!!

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