High school hockey fans witnessed history last year when, for the first time, two Manchester public schools played for a Division I state title. The championship was decided in overtime on Adam Tack’s goal, which gave Manchester Memorial to a 3-2 win over Manchester Central at Verizon Wireless Arena.
On Wednesday, another rivalry skates into the spotlight in the Division I semifinals when Londonderry will be trying to make its own history at the expense of traditional rival Pinkerton Academy of Derry in the 5:30 p.m. opener at JFK Coliseum.
Londonderry has never played in a state championship game. Now the Lancers will have to earn it against the surging Astros, who have won two state titles since 2009. Pinkerton has won nine of its last 11 games.
The other semifinal game, at 7:30 p.m., features two teams, St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover and Central, who experienced agonizing tournament defeats to eventual state champion Memorial last year. Last season, the Saints blew a 3-0 third-period semifinal lead and lost 4-3 in overtime to the Crusaders at JFK.
Londonderry, under head coach Peter Bedford, punched its ticket to the semifinals for the third time in four seasons with a 4-3 quarterfinal decision over Bishop Guertin of Nashua Saturday at Salem’s Icenter.
Third period goals from Curtis Harper and Nick Donnelly of Londonderrry 54 seconds apart snapped a 2-2 tie. BG pulled its goalie and scored with 1:27 left, but Londonderry, behind 15 saves from goalie Joe McGrath, denied the Cardinals of another comeback win. On Feb. 26 the Cardinals erased a two-goal deficit to beat Londonderry, 3-2.
“We were determined not to allow BG to come back again,” said Bedford. “I thought overall we played smart and trusted in the things we did so well during the regular season.”
Bedford takes pride that his program has returned to the Final Four, but now he wants to go the extra step. “Over the last four seasons, our program has raised its expectations. For the most part, we have been a consistent winning program and now we want to get to the finals. Nothing comes easy and we know we’re going to be facing a Pinkerton team that is playing with confidence and peaking at the right time. We’re playing very well, too, so it should be a good game. It’s always special to play a tournament game at the JFK. The fans are loud, the environment is great and it’s what high school hockey should be all about. It’s a great experience.”
The third-ranked Lancers (15-4) and seventh-ranked Astros (10-8-2) split their regular season games.
Concurrently at the Icenter Saturday, while Londonderry was beating BG, on the bigger ice surface Pinkerton upset second-ranked Salem, 2-0. behind 24 saves by Brendan Murphy.
In the first period, junior Steve Leonard scored the eventual winning goal against Salem goalie Sam Macdonald (24 saves) and junior Ethan Landry sealed the win with an empty-net goal.
At Dover Arena Saturday, the Saints had flashbacks of last year’s disappointing loss to Memorial. St. Thomas blew a 4-0 second period lead to Nashua North, but an overtime goal from Ty Turgeon allowed the Saints to escape. Glenn Wiswell led the Saints with three goals and two assists and Niall Foster added four assists.
In Manchester, fifth-ranked Central (12-7) will be looking to atone for its 8-3 loss to the top-ranked Saints (16-2-1) during the regular season. It was not the best of nights for standout senior goalie Ian Beliveau, who was pulled from the game after the Saints established a big second-period lead.
“I think Ian hasn’t forgotten that game and neither has our team,” said Central coach Brian Stone. “When you look at our entire season, Ian has been the backbone of our team. We go as far as he takes us. All our players have so much confidence in him and we feed off of him. St. Thomas is a very good team and Wiswell is the real deal. But we’re at home and we’ve come a long way since that loss to St. Thomas. I believe Ian will be focused on Wednesday and if we can duplicate the effort we showed against Trinity (6-2 quarterfinal win), we’re going to be just fine.”
Stone mentioned that his defense, led by Patrick Barry, Parker Anderson, Tim Tetrault, Jake Clark and Ross Lougee, has also sparked the team, which has won its last seven games.