The final game of the Manchester Monarchs Christmas Hockey Classic was played Friday night at JFK Coliseum in Manchester featuring Bedford High School against Hanover High School. Bedford emerged victorious with a final score of 4-2. Hanover goalie Harris LaRock makes a save with pressure from Bedford's Eric Flynn. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)
There are four teams remaining in the Division I boys’ ice hockey tournament — Bedford, Bishop Guertin, Concord and Hanover — and it’s easy to envision any one of them celebrating after Saturday’s Division I championship game at SNHU Arena.
Not only is there no clear-cut favorite to win the Division I title this season, it’s anyone’s guess as to which teams will advance out of tonight’s semifinals at the JFK Coliseum, where second-seeded Hanover (16-3-0) will face sixth-seeded BG (12-6-1) at 5:30 and top-seeded Concord (17-2-0) will skate against fourth-seeded Bedford (16-4-0) at 7:30.
BG is the lowest-seeded team remaining in the field, but that No. 6 seed is a bit misleading since the Cardinals beefed up their schedule by playing four teams from Massachusetts. BG went 12-3-0 against New Hampshire competition, and 0-3-1 against the Massachusetts teams.
“The four teams … there’s not a lot separating them,” Concord coach Duncan Walsh said. “I think you’re going to see two good games. I don’t think anyone is going to go ‘wow’ or be shocked no matter who wins it.”
With the teams in the semifinal field so close in terms of ability, what could decide tonight’s contests? Well, goaltending is always a key to postseason success in hockey at any level, although two of the state’s top goalies — Pinkerton’s Dakota Robinson and Trinity’s Ethan Messner — played for teams no longer alive in the tournament.
Special teams can often be the difference when teams of near-equal ability match up. That was certainly the case when Hanover beat BG 3-1 during the regular season. Hanover scored a short-handed goal and a power-play goal in that victory.
“It was a two-goal game and we gave up a power-play goal and a short-handed goal,” BG coach Gary Bishop said. “Those things aren’t supposed to happen. We’re bigger (than Hanover), but they have a lot of skilled kids. You don’t want to give them power-play opportunities.
“I think you can flip a coin with these four teams. I’d put Pinkerton (the team BG beat in the quarterfinals) in that group too. Any of these teams could win it if things go their way.”
Hanover coach Dick Dodds said special teams has been one of his team’s strengths this season.
“For us to have any success it’ll have to be strong for us in the semis too,” Dodds said. “Once you reach this stage of the season it’s anybody’s game. Like the other teams we’ve been on a steady upward trajectory (since the season began).”
Bedford coach Marty Myers also came up with an X-factor that could play a role in which teams prevail tonight: the JFK ice surface, which doesn’t have a lot of room in the neutral zone.
“It’s such a unique rink in the state,” Myers said. “I think it boils down to what team performs best in that small rink.”
Hanover vs. Bishop Guertin
Ben Peterson, Liam Nye and Doug Barker scored for BG when it knocked off No. 3 Pinkerton 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Hanover advanced with a 5-2 triumph over seventh-seeded Londonderry. The Marauders, who are 5-1-0 at JFK this season, haven’t won a state title since 2006. BG’s last Division I championship came in 2015.
Peterson (25 goals, nine assists) and Nye (11-13-24) are BG’s leading scorers, and goalie Colin Freitas made 24 saves in the quarterfinal victory against Pinkerton. David Lehman (21-19-40) is Hanover’s top point producer. Hanover goalie Harris LaRock enters tonight’s contest with 19 wins, five shutouts, a .929 save percentage and a 1.57 goals-against average.
Two of Hanover’s three losses came against top-seeded Concord (6-0 and 4-2).
Concord vs. Bedford
Concord reached the semifinals by beating No. 8 Salem 8-1 in the quarterfinals. Bedford, which has won the last two Division I titles, beat No. 5 Trinity 7-2 in the quarters. Bedford defeated Concord in last year’s championship game.
The key for Bedford may be how well it defends Concord’s top line of right wing Colin Kastle (21-19-50), left wing Drew Livingston (26-8-34) and center Cam Lariviere (5-23-28), although the Crimson Tide’s second and third lines have also been productive. Concord is seeking its first Division I championship since 2010.
Concord used some late magic to beat Bedford 4-3 during the regular season. Bedford had a two-goal lead with 65 seconds to play, but Concord tied the contest with 13.7 seconds left in the third and then Livingston scored the game-winning goal 45 seconds into overtime. Bedford’s Zach Beyer scored two third-period goals in that loss.
BG is the only team that has scored more than three goals against Concord. The Cardinals beat Concord 4-3 and also lost to the Crimson Tide 7-4. Bedford goalie Connor Laurendeau made 17 saves in his team’s quarterfinal victory over Trinity.