Not only did the seventh-seeded Exeter High School hockey team have every intention of upsetting second-ranked Pinkerton Academy in Division I quarterfinal-round tournament play Saturday night, March 7, but the Blue Hawks put everything they had toward accomplishing that goal and nearly did so.
But after playing a sub-par first period on their home ice at Hooksett’s Ice Den in that win-or-be-gone contest, the Astros once again became the hockey squad that went 7-0-1 in its final eight regular season games during the second and third periods and a necessary overtime period in ending Exeter’s 2014-15 campaign with a 2-1 defeat.
Coach Joey Lee’s academy icemen trailed 1-0 after that disappointing first stanza but netted the tying goal in period two and then – following a scoreless third period – won the game on an Ethan Landry power-play tally 4:21 into sudden-death overtime to move into the D-I semifinals.
“We expected a physical, heavy, hard game, and we got a physical, heavy, hard game. But we kept our composure and kept working and got the victory,” said Lee. “I’m proud of so many of our guys in that (locker) room for sticking it out, all pulling together in the same direction on the rope, and coming up with the win.”
Later that evening, the Astros learned that they’d be playing the third-seeded Concord High Crimson Tide in semifinal-round play at Manchester’s JFK Coliseum on Wednesday night, March 11, after Nutfield News press time.
The Blue Hawks – who lost by a 5-1 score in their regular-season meeting with PA but bested 10th-seeded Nashua North by a 5-1 score in the first round of the tourney – put pressure on PA goalie Jordan Puzzo from the opening faceoff and snared a 1-0 lead 2:38 in.
Exeter was definitely the stronger squad in the first stanza, enjoying a 10-6 advantage in shots on net, scoring the lone goal, and playing with much more aggressiveness than PA.
But a different Astro team showed up at the start of the second period and stayed through the rest of the contest, thumping 36 shots on Exeter goalies Bryson Desjardins, and at one point, the trainer was called to the goalies aid from the onslaught, while the Blue Hawks managed only 11 more shots on the Pinkerton cage.
Junior forward Tyler Poole potted a magnificent, goal-scorer’s tally following a set-up from defenseman Zach Pendenza 5:16 into the second stanza to knot the score at 1-1.
Poole skated the puck down the right side of the slot in the Exeter zone and zinged a shot into the top corner of the opposite side of the net, leaving Hawks’ goalie Desjardins totally helpless to stop it.
But Desjardins made plenty of other stops during those 15 minutes, turning aside 14 PA blasts as the Astros enjoyed a 15-4 advantage in shots on net.
The hosts had a 14-7 advantage in shots on net in period three, but none of those 21 shots got by the net-minders as the score remained deadlocked at 1-1 and overtime was required.
Neither team had enjoyed a power-play during regulation time, with matching minor penalties being called three times during the three stanzas. And when Pinkerton was given the first man-advantage on a tripping call 2:44 into overtime, the local squad had the special teams opportunity it required to end the game.
That’s precisely what the academy icemen did with 23 seconds remaining in their power-play when Poole and Gio Corsetto set up Landry just to the right of the Exeter net, and the skilled senior forward didn’t miss with his shot.
The Blue Hawks’ hard-luck keeper Desjardins finished with 41 saves, while PA goalie Puzzo contributed 20 stops to the nail-biter of a win.