PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Bruins Hockey Club placed two teams in championship games at the 45th Annual Gib Kittredge Tournament at The Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club on Monday. The Squirts Division team got a dominant performance in net from Holden Kotelnicki, earning a 4-0 win over the Northern Berkshire Black Bears. At the Bantam Division, the Bruins mounted a valiant comeback effort before falling 4-2 to the Bethlehem Eagles.
For the Squirts, Berkshire coach Jarrett Bayliss said protecting the home ice is very important to the team. With the championship in the balance, the host team fed off of Kotelnicki's performance. Once Jackson Molleur found Jacob Touponce for the first goal with 5:02 left in the first period, Bayliss knew it would be hard for the Black Bears to play from behind.
"[Kotelncki] gives us 100 percent every game and he always comes up with those big plays," Bayliss said. "He always keeps us in the game and in some cases, he picks us up when we dip."
In the first period, Kotelnicki made two point-blank saves on Eagles breakaways, stopping Wesley Emerson's shot in the third minute and Owen Taylor's 10 seconds later. Overall, the Bruins' defense did not allow many clean looks at the goal. Kotelnicki made six saves.
"If you make a big save it gets you motivated to play better," Kotelnicki said. "The defense was good. They got the puck out and I didn't have to face that many shots."
Berkshire used the defensive momentum to pull away with its offense. Molleur added a goal in the fifth minute of the second period. He recorded his second assist on Brayden Bishop's goal one minute later, putting his squad up 3-0. In the third period, Bishop returned the favor, assisting on Molleur's second goal of the game — a rising shot into the high left corner — for the Bruins' final goal.
"We started slow and we started our season late, so this tournament was the culmination of every thing that we've worked for," Bayliss said.
At the Bantam Division, Berkshire trailed by one heading into the final period. Early in the third, Ryan LaPierre netted what appeared to be the equalizer, but the goal was waved off. Berkshire coach Dan Kearns said the momentum swing of losing the potential equalizer affected the team.
"They're 13 and 14-years old. It's their home tournament, it's an emotional weekend and an emotional game," he said. "They weren't dealt a fair hand with some of the calls on the ice... You need to get the calls in a big game against two evenly matched teams."
Whistles were plentiful during the physical game. The teams combined for 15 penalties, and a tripping call on Bethlehem set up Berkshire's final goal from Brock Baumann on a penalty shot. Baumann used a head fake, followed with a deke right before going back to his left side for the goal with 1:44 left in the game. The Bruins had several chances at the late equalizer, but an Eagles' empty net goal with 17.5 seconds left iced the game.
Berkshire outshot Bethlehem 11-8 in the final period, but the visitors won the overall shots battle by a 23-18 margin. Jack Ripley made 19 saves.
The Eagles jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Corbin Rumbolt put Berkshire on the board, scoring with 1:16 left in the second period. "You tell the kids going in the third period — you're going to be down by one goal with 1:30 left — and I think they'll take it," Kearns said. "They fought back hard. It was a long, emotional weekend. They played their hearts out.
"We had four evenly matched teams and every game was a dogfight. Sometimes you come out on the losing end. It doesn't feel good, but this team's got to learn from it."