Wahconah can write its name into county hockey lore with state final win
It's something that many athletes probably do. It's just a rarity that they actually admit to it.
So give Wahconah hockey player Andrew Beaudoin credit for having the guts to acknowledge his rather personal daydream that became reality last week.
"I think about scoring the Western Mass. winner in the shower all the time," Beaudoin said after the Warriors' Division III-A championship win Thursday.
Beaudoin had a couple of reasons to be so ebullient: His third-period goal had completed Wahconah's comeback from a three-goal deficit in the third period to beat Chicopee for the sectional crown, and that win had given Berkshire County its first sectional champion in 22 years.
When St. Joseph beat Pittsfield for the Western Mass. Division III title at Amherst's Orr Rink on March 5, 1992, none of the current Warriors had even been born. Wahconah coach Don Disbrow played his high school hockey in Connecticut, so the Berkshires weren't on his hockey radar until he took the reins of the Warrior program.
He's been told of his team's place in county history by many people, though, since Thursday's come-from-behind win over Chicopee. Wahconah can win the Berkshires' first state hockey championship since Pittsfield's 1990 Division III crown with a win Thursday over Central Mass. champ North Middlesex.
"A couple mentioned there have only been one or two who have actually won states, and a couple more that have won Western Mass.," Disbrow said. "Even the last team to make [the Western Mass. final], Taconic, I didn't see play."
A few guys around the Berkshires know about both the 1992 St. Joseph team and the 2009 Taconic team, though. One, Dan Kearns, played important roles for both squads. He was the goalie for those Western Mass.-winning Crusader teams, and he coached the ‘09 Braves team that reached the III-A championship game and lost to Holyoke.
Kearns still remembers the score of the 1992 sectional title win -- 6-2.
"I remember everything," he said.
"It was the eighth straight time we'd beaten PHS. We'd played them the year before in the Western Mass. finals, too. ... We had the best line in Western Mass. with [Marc] Salvi, Tony Tullock and Chad Baumann. An unstoppable force, that's for sure."
Salvi picked up a hat trick and added two assists in the ‘92 win, which gave him 53 goals for the season. The Crusaders advanced to the state championship game, where -- minus Kearns, who suffered a broken clavicle when hit by a Tullock slap shot in warmups -- they lost to Westwood.
Kearns never thought, though, that it would be another 22 years before Berkshire County had another chance at a state championship.
"Never. Berkshire County hockey back then, from the youth level to high school, was awesome," he said.
It's certainly gone downhill in terms of numbers. The St. Joseph program dissolved after last season, leaving just three teams -- Wahconah, Taconic and Mount Everett -- left in the county. The Hennessy League no longer exists.
Despite the setback for the county, the Warriors put together the best season the program has ever seen. With players from WRHS, Drury, Hoosac Valley, McCann Tech and Mount Greylock high schools, the Wahconah co-op program has numbers and talent to go with its first-ever sectional championship.
"All of us are very excited to be representing Berkshire County," Wahconah forward Dan Flynn, a Mount Greylock student who played for St. Joe last season, said. "I was hoping for another chance to play [this season]. It didn't matter what team I played for or anything, just so I could play hockey."
Kearns plans to be there Thursday for the state title game against North Middlesex, and he's taking his 12-year-old son Quinn, who's also a goalie in youth leagues.
He hasn't seen the Warriors play this season, as he's still working in the youth leagues. Kearns left the Taconic bench after the 2009-10 season. He's seen many of the Wahconah players go through youth programs, though, and said their dedication in younger years -- as well as the work of the coaching staff -- is paying off now.
"I think Wahconah putting Berkshire County hockey back on the map is awesome, but the dedication starts from the players and the parents driving the kids around when they are 9 and 10 years old," he said. "This is just payment for all the dues when they were younger."
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