AROUND the high school hockey community, the word on Wednesday was "anxious."
With the delay of the NHIAA boys' ice hockey semifinals to tonight, the surviving four teams in Division I, II and III scrambled to find ice time for practice on Wednesday and coaches reported that their players were anxious to play.
Tonight's slate features No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover (16-2-1) taking on No. 4 Manchester Central (12-7-0) at 7:30 p.m. and No. 3 Londonderry (15-4-0) facing arch-rival No. 7 Pinkerton Academy of Derry (10-8-2) at 5:30 p.m. at JFK Coliseum in Division I play.
In Division II, unbeaten top seed (and two-time champion) Bedford (19-0-0) plays No. 4 Spaulding of Rochester (15-4-0) at 7:30 p.m. and No. 3 Bow (15-3-1) faces No. 2 Dover (16-3-0) at 5:30 at The Rinks at Exeter.
In Division III action at Everett Arena in Concord, No. 1 Berlin (17-2-0) faces No. 5 John Stark-Hopkinton (11-6-1) at 7:30 p.m. and No. 3 Belmont-Gilford (16-3-0) takes on No. 2 Souhegan of Amherst (16-2-0) at 5:30 p.m.
The winners play for the state championships on Saturday at Verizon Wireless Arena, joining Hanover and Berlin-Gorham in the girls' title game at 10 a.m. The Division III championship is set for 12:15 p.m., Division II at 2:30 p.m. and Division I at 4:30 p.m.
In Division I, the rivalry between Londonderry and Pinkerton should make for some fireworks. The teams split the regular season meetings, with the Lancers winning 4-3 and the Astros taking a 4-2 win in the second game.
"They know us well, we know them well. We had a couple great regular season games," said Pinkerton head coach Joey Lee. "It's two very tight teams. We're just going to try and battle. It's going to be fun."
In the other DI game, Central will be looking to avenge a 9-3 loss at the hands of St. Thomas back in January. In that game, Little Green senior goalie Ian Beliveau was pulled early after an uncharacteristic sluggish start.
Saints head coach Andrew Leach knows this semifinal meeting will not be as easy against a Central team that has won six in a row and will be playing on home ice.
"They've been on a pretty good run. I think it's going to be a different matchup than earlier," Leach said. "We're going into the lion's den so to speak. They've played at JFK all year and will have lots of fans there. We just prepare like we normally do and have our gameplan and go in and work hard and play our game and see what happens."
In Division II, despite being unbeaten, Bedford will have its hands full with Spaulding. The Red Raiders gave Bedford all it could handle in a regular season game a couple weeks ago. Bedford escaped with a 5-4 win.As for Bow and Dover, the 6-3 win by Bow back in early January won't mean much tonight according to Bow head coach Tim Walsh.
"The regular season game is completely irrelevant," Walsh said. "Our kids know Dover is going to be a very different team than it was that first game. It's two even teams. Both teams are good skating teams with strong goaltending and good forwards up front. We have our work cut out for us."
In Division III, the matchup between Berlin and Stark-Hopkinton is much more fresh. The teams played back-to-back games on Feb. 22 and 23 with Berlin winning both by scores of 5-2 and 7-4. Meanwhile, Belmont-Gilford and Souhegan met in the regular season finale, a 4-2 win for Belmont-Gilford. Souhegan took the previous meeting, 4-3.
Ian Clark covers high school hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.