Big arena, big stage for today's high school hockey finalsBy IAN CLARK
New Hampshire Union Leader
and RYAN O'CONNOR
Union Leader Correspondent
March 14. 2014 9:44PM
NHIAA hockey finalsToday at Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester
Division I: Londonderry vs. Manchester Central, 4:30 p.m.
Division II: Bow vs. Bedford, 2:30 p.m.
Division III: John Stark/Hopkinton vs. Souhegan, 12:15 p.m.
Girls': Berlin/Gorham vs. Hanover, 10 a.m.
Fifteen teams have tried and failed to blemish Bedford's record.
Now Bow, one of those unsuccessful challengers, has a third and final shot at the unbeaten and defending champion Bulldogs. The opportunity comes on the season's biggest stage, in the Division II championship game Saturday at Manchester's Verizon Wireless Arena.
The third of four title games during the annual NHIAA quadrupleheader at the Verizon, the Bedford-Bow game starts at 2:30 p.m., following the girls' championship game between unbeaten Hanover and the Berlin/Gorham cooperative team at 10 a.m. and the Division III boys' game between Souhegan of Amherst and a team combining players from Hopkinton High and John Stark of Weare at 12:15 p.m.
The finale features one team, Londonderry, seeking its first hockey state title and another, Manchester Central, seeking its first hockey crown since 1981 in the Division I championship at 4:30 p.m.
Here's a division-by-division look at the four title games:
Fourth-seeded Central (13-7-0) upset No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover in the semifinals to reach the final for the second consecutive year. The Little Green lost the title game to city rival Manchester Memorial a year ago.
"We're not done, right?" said Central coach Brian Stone after the win over STA Thursday night. "We got there last year, so this year we've got to try and finish."
No. 3 Londonderry (16-4-0) defeated Central 3-2 in a regular season meeting in mid-January, but in a one-game, winner-take-all scenario, past results don't mean much. Just ask St. Thomas, which routed Central 9-3 in their regular-season meeting.
"That doesn't mean anything now," Londonderry's leading scorer, senior forward Eric Coburn, said of the January win over Central. "We've just got to keep playing good hockey and keep working. Hopefully we can come out with a W."
The loss to Londonderry began a stretch in which the Little Green lost six of seven games, but they won their last five regular-season games to earn a first-round bye in the tournament.
Stone, who felt that his team performed even better in a 6-2 quarterfinal win over No. 5 Trinity of Manchester than it did in its upset of St. Thomas, said the Little Green have to contain Coburn and otherwise continue doing what they've been doing during their winning streak: playing grind-it-out hockey in all three zones.
It would help Central, too, to get another stellar performance from goaltender Ian Beliveau, who helped shut down the potent STA offense with 28 saves and stopped 33 Trinity shots in the quarterfinals.
Though top-seeded Bedford, 20-0-0 in its quest for a third-straight D-II crown, defeated No. 3 Bow (16-3-1) twice during the regular season — 4-2 at Bow on Jan. 18 and 4-1 at home on Jan. 10 — Bedford head coach Marty Myers said he's not taking the underdogs lightly.
"Bow got to where they got because they're a good team. You know Bow is going to be ready for us, and hopefully we are just as ready for them," he said. "Just like any other game, we hope we play well. We've played well all season as a team, and we certainly don't want to change that going into this game."
Bow head coach Tim Walsh, who led the Falcons to a title in 2010, said it's his team's persistence that earned it a 2-1 semifinal victory against second-seeded Dover Thursday night.
"We didn't break away from our system, even at the end of the game, when it was kind of panic time, we stayed in our system, we clogged up the middle," he said. "The last minute and a half was unbelievable. We clogged up the neutral zone, we didn't let them come through, and we were blocking shots when we needed to."
Walsh said it's that very tenacity that gives his squad a chance.
"If we just come to play, and do everything right, and we play a perfect game, yeah, we're fully capable of it," he said. "This is a resilient group."
Unlike the Bedford teams of the last couple seasons, which had the firepower to keep up with the most explosive of offenses, this year's unit has leaned heavily on its blue line, Myers said.
"Every team has its own dynamic and this team, I think, is more defensive focused than offensive focused," he said, "so that's why we always try to keep the games tight because we know we don't want to get into shootout and we prefer to play a little tighter so we can win by a goal, or two, preferably."
Of course, a team's defense is only as good as its netminder and Bedford has a pretty good one. Today's contest, in fact, represents the third consecutive championship game start for senior Bedford goalie Steve Tempesta.
"He's a kid who has been with us for all four years ... he's basically started the last four years for me, and he's a great goalie and a he's a great mentor," said Myers.
The matchup should a tight one as Souhegan (17-2-0) and John Stark/Hopkinton (12-6-1) are evenly matched despite being separated by five wins and three seeds.
Souhegan won both regular-season meetings in convincing fashion, 8-2 and 4-1, but JS/Hopkinton has played its best hockey in the playoffs, taking out No. 5 Portsmouth and the big gun of top-ranked Berlin on Thursday with a 4-3 overtime win. In that one, Berlin led 3-2 with less than five minutes to go and went on the man advantage after John Stark/Hopkinton was assessed a five-minute boarding penalty. But the Generals' Ryan Hawkes scored a shorthanded goal to tie it, and Garrett Thomas won it 6:51 into the extra session.
Souhegan reached the final with a 7-1 victory over Belmont/Gilford, a game in which freshman James Wilson led a balanced attack with two goals.
Berlin-Gorham (14-3-2) will hope to play giant-killer and slay mighty Hanover (18-0-0), winner of four straight state championships and five of the six ever crowned in the state.
The aptly named Marauders have outscored New Hampshire opponents by a total of 100-9 this season, including a 5-0 victory over Bishop Guertin of Nashua in the semifinals.
"Hanover has always been good, but each game is different and you never know who is going to bring what. We're just going to bring our game," said Berlin-Gorham head coach Tanya Rosenberg. "We made it this far, and this was our focus all year as a team, and we did it together to get where we want to be."