NHIAA Div. III boys' hockey: John Stark/Hopkinton upsets Berlin in OT for title
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).