NHIAA Div. III boys' hockey: John Stark/Hopkinton upsets Berlin in OT for title
By ROGER BROWN New Hampshire Union Leader
Berlin's Connor Jewett is airborn as he attacks John Stark goaltender Connor McDonald in the first period of the NHIAA Division III hockey finals at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester Saturday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)
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MANCHESTER - As it turned out, the Berlin High School hockey team couldn't deal with the pressure.
John Stark/Hopkinton's forecheck had been a problem for opponents all season, and it set up the game-winning goal in Saturday's Division III championship game.
Senior tri-captain Simon Hunter intercepted an attempted clearing pass a couple strides inside the Berlin blue line and found himself with a clear path to the net. Hunter skated between the circles and put a high shot past Berlin goalie Shane Mailhot with 3:30 remaining in OT to give second-seeded John Stark/Hopkinton a 3-2 victory.
"That was a gift," said Hunter, a Henniker resident who attends John Stark in Weare. "I never would have thought I'd get the game-winning goal in overtime to win a championship my senior year."
Peter Sawitsky and Simon Becka also scored for John Stark/Hopkinton, which ended its season with a 19-1-1 record. Berlin beat John Stark/Hopkinton 8-2 during the regular season, but John Stark/Hopkinton was missing three defensemen for that game, and goaltender Connor McDonald suffered a concussion in the first period.
"Plus we had to travel to Berlin," John Stark/Hopkinton coach Denis Kolehmainen said. "We had it all going against us that day."
Brandon Poulin and Connor Jewett scored for top-seeded Berlin, which dropped from Division I to Division III after the 2012 season. The Mountaineers finished 20-1-0.
"I'm at a loss for words at this point," Berlin coach Michael Poulin said. "If we make the simple play to get out of the zone, we're free. We forced things.
"We had a target on our back from Game 1 to Game 21, and I think the kids handled it well. It came down to depth, and they were a little deeper than we were."
Sawitsky scored the only first-period goal when he beat Mailhot with a backhanded shot from near the left post during a power play at 3:53.
Berlin pulled even on Poulin's shot from the slot at 6:59 of the second period, but John Stark/Hopkinton regained the lead when Becka backhanded a rebound past Mailhot at 8:48 of the second. Jewett's goal came with 4:04 left in the second and made it a 2-2 game. He curled around a John Stark/Hopkinton defenseman and scored from low in the left faceoff circle. It was his 61st goal of the season.
The title came two years after John Stark and Hopkinton formed a cooperative team. It also came in Kolehmainen's first season as the team's head coach.
"What we've done all season is forecheck - make the other team make mistakes," Kolemainen said. "That's what happened, and that was the difference."
Division III Championship
John Stark/Hopkinton 3, Berlin 2
AT VERIZON WIRELESS ARENA
John Stark/Hopkinton 1-1-0-1-3 Berlin (20-1-0) 0-2-0-0-2
First period: JS-H - Peter Sawitsky (Kyle Kolehmainen) ppg 3:53.
Second period: B - Brandon Poulin (Zach Blanchette, Trevor Labrecque) 6:59; JS-H - Simon Becka (Jacob Blanchette) 8:48; B - Connor Jewett (Justin Vien, Mike Lemoine) 10:56.
Third period: No scoring.
Overtime: JS-H - Simon Hunter (unassisted) 11:30.
Saves: JS-H Connor McDonald (30). B - Shane Mailhot (22).