BURLINGTON – Two teams couldn’t have been much more even than the BFA-St. Albans and Spaulding boys hockey teams were this season.
After facing off against each other three times during the regular season, they both came away with 2-1 victories and also had a 1-1 tie.
Thursday’s Division I championship game was no exception when the two faced off at Gutterson Fieldhouse with the title on the line.
During a back-and-forth contest, the second-seeded Bobwhites tallied a goal midway through the third period that was the difference to come away with a 2-1 victory over the top-seeded Crimson Tide and capture their 18th championship in program history.
“It’s not an easy task to come away with a win against Spaulding,” said BFA coach Toby Ducolon. “Both teams have improved since we last saw each other and Jan. 25. We are both evenly matched and we did just enough to come out and get the last goal tonight.”
The Bobwhites picked up a goal late in the first period that held until the Crimson Tide finally found an answer with over eight minutes to go in the game.
The tie didn’t last very long with BFA tallying its second goal just over a minute later. Connor Wood skated the puck over the blue line, deked Spaulding defenseman Chandler Cressey out and Wood shifted the puck from his forehand to his backhand and over the blocker of Cody Gosselin and into the net for the go-ahead goal.
“The defenseman gave me some space, I made a move, went to my backhand and saw the net and buried the backhand,” said Wood. “It was pretty surreal.”
The Bobwhites didn’t get the start they wanted going down on the penalty kill just five seconds into the game. After a solid penalty kill, BFA owned the rest of the first period.
With just over two minutes left in the first period and BFA up on the powerplay, the Bobwhites used solid puck movement to find its first goal of the game. The Bobwhites moved the puck all around before Cooper Cioffi took the puck at the blue line and passed it to the top of the circle to Owen Hungerford. Hungerford ripped a wrist shot that found its way through traffic and into the back of the net to give the Bobwhites a 1-0 lead.
The Bobwhites continued to dominate until midway through the second period with a pair of powerplays, as they didn’t allow Spaulding to get a shot on net for the first 10 minutes of the period.
“Penalties killed us in the second and we couldn’t get much going on,” said Spaulding coach Clay Bell. “We’ve battled all season long and we did a good job responding toward the end of the second period.”
BFA got into penalty trouble of its own midway through the second period when it was called for a pair of penalties back to back.
The Bobwhites killed off the first penalty, but were called for a hooking penalty a minute after killing off the first. The Crimson Tide took advantage the second time around when Brad Romeo shot the puck from the point that found its way through traffic and trickled into the net.
The tie was short lived thanks to the moves from Wood, who put the Bobwhites up for good.
From there, it was the Bobwhites’ defense helped limit the shots that reached goalie Dan Ellis by clearing the puck quickly out of the zone and blocking a number of shots.
“The defense did a good job neutralizing Spaulding’s talented forwards,” said Ducolon. “Our forwards also did a good job getting back and it was great defense from the entire team.”
Ellis finished the game with 18 saves, including a pair of back-to-back saves in the final two minutes to keep the lead intact.
It was a big game from the freshman goaltender, which the Bobwhites have become accustomed to.
“We are not at Gutterson Fieldhouse without Dan Ellis,” said Ducolon. “He’s a talented kid and we are very lucky to have him around the next few years.”
The Bobwhites had a big boost from the start of the game when senior Zach Savage suited up and played a great game after getting injured during the semifinal.
“Zach is a tough individual and his presence was huge for us tonight,” said Ducolon. “He said his shoulder only hurt sitting on the bench, and he played a very good game for us tonight, so that was huge.”
It was quite the finish to the season for the Bobwhites, who didn’t lose a game after Jan. 7 to finish the season 18-2-3.
Now, the Bobwhites travel back to St. Albans with their second straight and record 18th championship.
“There are no words to describe the feelings right now,” said BFA senior captain Isaac Cioffi. “Coming back and winning the championship for the second year in a row is awesome. We put the hard work in during the offseason, preseason and everything, we deserved this. We knew Spaulding was going to score at some point, they are a good team, but it was all about how we bounced back and we bounced back perfectly.
“Everybody bought into each other, especially after our last loss and this is the place we wanted to be to get the second championship in a row, and it was a total team effort.”