WEST SPRINGFIELD -- For the first time in five years, Berkshire County will be represented in a Western Massachusetts hockey championship game.
First-period goals by Jeff Hancock and Patrick Jamross were backed up by a solid game from goalie Roger Stedman, and No. 2 seed Wahconah held off Belchertown 2-1 at the Olympia Ice Center in Monday night's first semifinal.
The Warriors, riding a 12-game win streak, are the first local team since Taconic in 2009 to play for a Western Mass. Division III-A championship. They'll return here on Thursday night to play Chicopee, which beat top seed Greenfield 7-4 in Monday's other semifinal.
Hancock's slap shot found the back of the net with 10:45 left, followed by Jamross skating in and scoring almost 2 minutes later.
Despite a last-minute Oriole goal with their goalie pulled for an extra skater, Stedman and the Warrior defense held Belchertown in check all night. Stedman made 21 saves, and had a lot of pressure taken off him by a tough Wahconah forecheck and solid neutral-zone play.
"We kept getting it deep and trying to get opportunities from our forecheck," Jamross said.
Everyone in Warrior blue agreed after the game that the team dictated the tempo through both its forecheck and its speed. It was that speed, in fact, that allowed Jamross to race into the Belchertown end and score what would be the deciding goal with 9:02 remaining in the first period.
That helped Wahconah coach Don Disbrow deal with the fact that it took his team a couple of minutes to get its offense going.
"Luckily, we picked it up and I think we controlled a lot of the play," the coach said. "Our forecheck pinned them for a good part of it. It also created the turnovers and the goals, and that eventually ended up being the game."
Wahconah outshot Belchertown 23-22, but controlled much of the game and neutralized the Oriole offense. Still, when Dylan Gillen got a shot past Stedman with 1:14 left in the game, the issue was suddenly in doubt.
"You know they're going to have a big push. Doesn't matter who it is," Disbrow said. "They're throwing everything at the net."
Again pulling its goalie in the final minute, Belchertown staved off a couple of empty-net shots by the Warriors, but never really threatened the Wahconah net in the final seconds. The Warrior bench emptied in celebration, as the county's best team had clinched its chance to earn the title of Western Massachusetts' best team in Division III-A.
Belchertown goalie Kyle Greene made 21 saves, keeping the Orioles in the game until the very end. Still, Orioles coach Matt Crutch felt the better team won Monday.
"I thought they played flawless," he said. "They had layers of defense. Every time we came across the blue line, they would have a guy there to take the body. That's the guy who would take the puck. They had support on every angle."
Hancock opened the scoring with 10:45 left in the first, teeing up a slapshot and rifling it past Greene.
"Danny Flynn caused the turnover in the corner, then Devin hit it out and it squirted to me," Hancock said. "I just hammered it home."
Before Thursday's final, Jamross said he hopes the Warriors can improve their breakout plays.
"A lot of bad passes and giveaways in our own zone, which can't happen in big games," he said.
Especially not in Thursday's game, which will be the biggest of the Warriors' season.
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Wahconah 2, Belchertown 1
Belchertown 0 0 1 -- 1
Wahconah 2 0 0 -- 2
W -- Jeff Hancock (Devon Battaini), 4:15.
W -- Patrick Jamross (Andrew Beaudoin), 5:58.
B -- Dylan Gillen (Ben Magarian, Alex Bachand), 13:46.
Saves: B -- Kyle Greene 21. W -- Roger Stedman 21.