Hockey: Belmont-Gilford remembers Deware, defeats Berlin-Gorham in rematch of D-III final

By DAN ATTORRI

Monitor staff

Published: 02-05-2023 9:21 PM

There’s always a lot to play for when the Belmont-Gilford Bulldogs and Berlin-Gorham Mountaineers face off, but Saturday’s game at Laconia’s Merrill Fay Arena had some extra meaning.

Not only was it a rematch of last year’s NHIAA Division III hockey championship, a contest featuring one of the biggest rivalries in New Hampshire hockey over the past several years, it was also Jake Deware Kindness Project Day, a game where proceeds benefit that organization.

Deware, a 2019 Belmont High School graduate, died in a tragic dirt biking accident on Nov. 8, 2020 at age 20. An idol to some, a good friend to many, and a kind soul to all, Deware’s reputation as an athlete and a person who gave back to the community was well known.

Donning special jerseys that bore his name and playing in memory of Deware, and what he stood for, the Bulldogs defeated the Mountaineers, 4-1.

Belmont-Gilford (13-0) also defeated Berlin-Gorham (9-3) on Jan. 4, 4-2, to sweep the regular season series and avenging last year’s 3-1 defeat in the championship.

The game also raised $1,523 for the Jake Deware Kindness Project, a total that included a generous donation from the Berlin-Gorham team, according to Danielle Embree, a Bulldogs Booster Club board member. Penco Plumbing and Heating donated the cost of the tribute jerseys and Deware’s mother, Jenn, did a ceremonial puck drop.

“In Jake’s short 20 years he demonstrated more kindness to people from all walks of life than most people do in a full lifetime,” Embree said. “The kindness project focuses on spreading kindness with good deeds daily in our communities.”

Sophomore Evan Guerin scored to put Belmont-Gilford up 1-0 just 17 seconds into the game on a wild sequence where Guerin was tripped, but flicked the puck into the net just before crashing into Berlin-Gorham goaltender Colin Melanson (18 saves).

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Jason Sweatt tied the game less than two minutes into the second period, putting away a feed that came from a teammate behind the net and across the crease to get Bulldog goalie Carson McGreevy (15 saves) off his mark.

Belmont-Gilford had a 5-on-3 power-play opportunity in the middle of the period, but Melanson made four saves in that two minute stretch. The Bulldogs eventually found the net again when sophomore defenseman Nate Gerbig scored on a slapshot from the point with 1:32 left in the second to make it 2-1.

“I thought we had some opportunities we could still work on, but I thought we controlled the majority of the game and possession of the puck,” Bulldogs head coach Jason Parent said. “We spread the ice out really well. We do a really good job of using the ice surface and moving the puck to the open guys.”

Senior Owen Guerin one-timed a cross-ice pass from younger brother Evan (junior Adam Ribeiro also assisted) and fired home a power-play goal from the blueline to wrap up the scoring, both goals coming in the final six minutes of the game.

Evan Guerin and junior defenseman Aidan McKenzie assisted on the final goal.

Owen leads D-III with 46 points (26 goals, 20 assists), with Evan not far behind with 21 goals and 22 assists.

Belmont-Gilford went 16-5 last season with an underclassmen-laden team. While still relatively young (the Bulldogs have 11 sophomores and two freshmen on a roster of 19 players), the team brought back plenty of experience, especially on the defensive end, which fuels an attack that has outscored opponents 87-17 through 13 games.

“We have a really good defensive core, which allows us to get up the ice quickly and alleviate some of the forechecking and pressure other teams try to use against us,” Parent said. “We’ve done a great job limiting the number of shots against us.”

While they haven’t mathematically sealed the top seed in D-III, a 13-0 record with an 18-game calendar, with Berlin-Gorham in second place at 9-3 and Pembroke-Campbell in third at 7-3, the Bulldogs have all but assured themselves that position. It doesn’t mean that a return trip to the championship will be an easy road.

“Berlin is always going to be a tough out,” Parent said. “Pembroke-Campbell has a really strong core group of kids. They’re a well-rounded team with a good goaltender. They’re always a tough team to play against. Kingswood is down from D-II. Hollis-Brookline is always there in the mix.”

The season is far from over, but Parent has seen the growth in his players since last season and knows the Bulldogs are capable of making another finals appearance.

“We were a lot younger team than Berlin was last year,” Parent said. “I think that being one year older, that one year of maturity, plus having that experience of knowing what it takes to get where you want to be, those are all things you can build on. We’re fortunate to bring the bulk of that group back. They’re showing that experience and that dedication to win.”

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