Every indicator seemed to point to the likelihood that the Pinkerton Academy and Salem High School ice hockey teams would skate their way into an epic meeting in the Division I championship game. But sometimes, indicators mean nothing.
The top-seeded and undefeated Salem High Blue Devils got stunned by the eighth-ranked Bishop Guertin Cardinals by a 3-2 tally in a quarterfinal contest in Salem on March 7, while the second-seeded Pinkerton Astros were narrowly getting past the number seven Exeter High Blue Hawks in overtime in Hooksett.
But the Astros wouldn’t get the outcome they desired in their semifinal-round battle with number three Concord – a game that also went to extra play – as the locals fell short of the 2014-15 championship.
Both of the games played at the JFK Coliseum in Manchester on March 11 went to double overtime, with Pinkerton falling to Concord by a 3-2 count in the 73rd minute of the early semifinal contest, and the Bishop Guertin crew continuing to write its Cinderella story with an unexpected besting of number four Bedford.
The PA squad entered its semifinal contest with a world of confidence, having gone 8-0-1 in its last nine games and with the knowledge that it had handed Concord – a team less than prolific where goal-scoring was concerned – a 3-0 white-washing in regular season play Jan. 7.
However, facing a win-or-hang-’em-up scenario in the semifinal rematch with the Crimson Tide, the Astros saw Concord sophomore goalie Ben Nelson stand on his head (47 saves) and senior forward Alex Orcutt pot a rebound with 1:50 left in the second overtime to bust a 2-2 tie and stifle Pinkerton’s championship hopes.
Anyone who watched the intense, well-played battle can say that the old cliché about it being “too bad that somebody had to lose” had never been more fitting than it was that night.
“I can’t express enough how proud I am of the way my guys played tonight,” said coach Joey Lee. “I thought we played excellent and well enough to win, but just weren’t able to get the bounce we needed. Credit to coach Dunc Walsh and Concord as they battled hard, and got an excellent performance in net from Nelson, who had countless big stops.”
Everyone in the coliseum knew from the opening face-off that both Pinkerton and Concord were intent on putting forth every bit of energy they had in them to win this semifinal contest.
The first period was scoreless, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort by the Astros or the Tide.
The academy crew put two power-plays to great use by pelting Concord keeper Nelson with shot after shot, but early indications showed that the bounces and rolls might not go the Astros’ way.
PA senior forward Ethan Landry seemed particularly victimized as he had at least a half-dozen scoring chances go by the wayside because of strange rolls or bounces of the puck. The first few of those frustrating situations occurred in period one.
Pinkerton began the second period with the remainder of a man-advantage that began late in the first, but when the locals were unable to blast a shot home during those 34 seconds, Concord did the honors in grabbing a 1-0 lead.
The Crimson Tide had beefy forward Matt Norris (6’3” and 220 pounds) zip home a wrist shot right off a face-off in the PA zone just 1:06 into period two, and that 1-0 advantage would stand up throughout the remainder of the stanza, despite the fact that the Astros zipped six more shots on Nelson.
The Astros knotted the score with 8:06 left in the third period when junior forward Tyler Poole rapped home a rebound, with Reese Popkin and John Hamilton registering the assists.
The academy icemen then bagged the only lead they’d enjoy in the game when sophomore forward Tim Cronin was set up by Landry with 4:08 showing on the game clock.
Concord tied the score at 2-2 less than a minute later when Norris set up teammate Brad Murphy, and neither side could have known at that point that they’d play nearly two more full periods before that deadlock was busted.
Pinkerton enjoyed a relatively small advantage in shots on net (26-21) during regulation time, but that meant nothing when sudden-death overtime number one commenced and the Astros powered their way to a 14-4 advantage in shots on net during those 15 minutes, with Concord keeper Nelson turning every chance aside.
The academy icemen out-shot the Tide yet again in the second 15-minute overtime (9-7), but Concord’s seventh shot would be the last one of the game as Orcutt smacked home a rebound to send his teammates and the Tide fans into a frenzy of celebration.
PA junior goalie Jordan Puzzo made 30 saves of his own.
“It was a great hockey game – tough to swallow – but just an amazing game and certainly one I am proud to say that I was a part of,” said Lee.
The Bishop Guertin icemen of Nashua then wrote the final page of their Cinderella story by defeating Concord by a 4-1 tally in the D-I title game in Manchester days later.