Wahconah hockey wins Western Mass. title with epic comeback
WEST SPRINGFIELD -- Wahconah hockey coach Don Disbrow gathered his staff in the warming room during the second intermission of Thursday night's Western Massachusetts Division III-A championship game. The Warriors needed a plan.
Chicopee had just broken open what had been a tight, yet high-scoring, game with a four-goal flurry in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds of the second period.
"There were a lot of things happening very quickly," Disbrow said. "The main thing that we needed to do was go in there, and [goalie] Roger [Stedman] knew that he had to shut them out. We knew we could put the puck in the net."
That knowledge became a stunning reality over the next 15 minutes on the ice. Wahconah scored four times in the third, and Stedman allowed nothing past him as the Warriors won their first-ever Western Mass. championship in a 7-6 epic over Chicopee at the Olympia Ice Center.
Andrew Beaudoin scored twice in the third, including the go-ahead goal with 3:22 remaining, as Wahconah won its 13th consecutive game, avenged a 10-2 loss at the hands of the Pacers in January and brought Berkshire County its first sectional hockey championship in 22 years. The victory sends the Warriors to next Thursday's Division III-A state championship game against the yet-to-be-determined Central Mass. champ at Springfield's MassMutual Center.
St. Joseph won Berkshire County's last sectional championship, in 1992.
"We were just hyped up," forward Jeff Hancock said. "We came out there and put four in the net."
None of what transpired in the third looked possible after Chicopee scored four unanswered goals late in the second to turn what had been a 3-2 Warrior lead into a 6-3 Pacer advantage.
Hjalmar Gustafsson gave Wahconah the 3-2 lead with his goal at the 10:31 mark of the second, Chicopee answered almost immediately with Jeff Zebrowski's tally at the 11:48 mark. Then they scored again 12 seconds later, a Nick Jablonski goal.
Then Brian Turnbull scored 23 seconds after that. And 2:22 after that.
Wahconah was down, but as it turned out, far from out.
"It's either get three goals or it's the season," Beaudoin said, "so leave it all out there."
The comeback started with Dan Flynn's goal 1:05 into the third, and continued a little more than a minute later when Beaudoin made it 6-5. Suddenly, an outcome that looked set after 30 minutes was back in doubt.
But the Warriors weren't done. Gustafsson, a Swedish exchange student, used some solid puck handling and skating to score off a Beaudoin assist 5:35 into the third to tie the game.
"They're a real good team offensively, but we knew that, if we shoot a lot, we could score a lot of goals," Gustafsson said.
The comeback was complete when Beaudoin, coming in on a rush with linemates Gustafsson and Flynn after a neutral-zone turnover, picked up the rebound of Gustafsson's shot in the slot and backhanded it past Jon Santos at the 11:38 mark to give Wahconah the lead.
Chicopee's offense had been relentless throughout, holding a shot edge all night. It got closer in the deciding third period, but the Pacers still had their chances late, especially when Jeff Hancock was sent off for tripping with less than 3 minutes to go.
With a sectional championship hanging in the balance, though, Warrior defenders sacrificed their bodies to absorb every Chicopee shot. What got through them didn't get by Stedman (37 saves), who redeemed himself after the lapse late in the second.
"We told Roger he was going to have to come up big," Disbrow said. "He walked into the locker room and said, ‘Guys, I'm shutting them out. Go get four goals.'
"And that's exactly what happened."
Chicopee struck first with Devan Longtin's goal with 3:09 elapsed in the first, only to be matched 42 seconds later when Hancock -- stationed by the Chicopee net -- slapped a puck past Santos to tie the score.
The Pacers owned a 14-6 shot edge after one period and reclaimed a lead at the 8:10 mark with Jeff Zebrowski's goal.
Hancock put in his second goal of the game with 4:33 elapsed in the second, on a 2-on-1 rush with Mike Bloom, and Gustafsson's tally with 10:31 gone in the second gave the Warriors a brief lead.
"When you score six goals and still lose, it's kind of tough," Chicopee coach Al Styckiewicz said. "Wahconah knew to get that odd-man rush and take advantage of it. We practiced stopping it; I guess they're better at doing it than we are at stopping it."
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Division III-A Championship
Wahconah 7, Chicopee 6
Chicopee 2 4 0 -- 6
Wahconah 1 2 4 -- 7
C -- Devan Longtin (Brett Geoffrey, Ryan Kazeroid), 3:09
W -- Jeff Hancock (Mike Bloom, Lance McColgan), 3:51
C -- Jeff Zebrowski (Nick Jablonski), 8:10
W -- Hancock (Bloom), 4:33
W -- Hjalmar Gustafsson (Andrew Beaudoin, Vinnie Orlandi), 10:31
C -- Zebrowski (Jablonski), 11:48
C -- Jablonski (Dan Garvey, Kazeroid), 12:00
C -- Brian Turnbull (Jablonski, 7), 12:23
C -- Turnbull (Ben Jablonski), 14:45
W -- Dan Flynn (Beaudoin, Patrick Jamross), 1:05
W -- Beaudoin (unassisted), 2:12
W -- Gustafsson (Beaudoin), 5:35
W -- Beaudoin (Gustafsson, Flynn), 11:38
Saves: C -- Jon Santos 26. W -- Roger Stedman 37.
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