By Jean LeBlanc
BERLIN — Kennett juniors Caleb McPherson and Connor Doucet scored two goals each, leading Kennett High to a convincing 4-0 victory over the defending state champions Berlin/Gorham Mountaineers in the 2016-17 Division III boys' hockey finals played at Southern New Hampshire University Arena in Manchester on Saturday.
The win improved top-ranked Kennett to an overall impressive 21-3 record for the year. It was the Eagle's fourth crown since 2003 and their first appearance in the finals since 2012.
The loss gives the third-ranked Mountaineers an overall record of 18-5-1 on the winter. Berlin/Gorham graduated 11 seniors from last year's championship team and was expecting to see a season to mirror a .500 winning percentage, because of the many new faces that had no varsity experience. This season's accomplishments can mainly be attributed to the Mountaineer coaching staff of Head Coach Mike Poulin and Assistants Matt Soprano and Corey Riendeau.
Kennett came out and controlled play for most of the championship. The Eagles shadowed Mountie 30-goal scorer Cameron Cochran and never allowed him to create any offense.
The Eagles got their first good scoring opportunity at 3:06 of the first period. Colby Couture got in behind the Berlin defense, but was stoned by the glove hand of Mountie sophomore netminder Trent Labrecque keeping the game at 0-0.
Labrecque repeated himself again a couple minutes later, this time using a pad to make the save. However, Berlin/Gorham's lone penalty of the game was whistled for slashing just moments later, giving the top ranked Eagles a chance to break the ice.
The Berlin/Gorham penalty kill was going just fine and had almost reached a minute. Labrecque made a save and the rebound came out in front of him a couple of feet. Labrecque and a Mountie defender froze for a split second thinking that the other was going to get to the puck, giving McPherson enough time to get to the puck from behind the net. McPherson jammed the puck five-hole and the Eagles celebrated the power-play goal and a 1-0 lead.
There was no more scoring in the first period, but Labrecque had to come up big on two more occasions. Both times it was Kennett's Doucet that was stopped by the Berlin guardian to keep the Mountaineers within striking distance at 1-0. Kennett out shot Berlin 9-4 in the first period.
Both teams did not take too many chances during the second period, which eventually led to the Mountaineers gaining some confidence. The Mounties began to keep the puck in the Kennett with five minutes remaining in the middle session.
Berlin/Gorham's best scoring chance of the game came with 3:01 left in the second session. Junior defender Travis Lamontagne made a great move around the Kennett defense and unloaded a blast from the face-off circle. His shot stay short side and rang loudly off the outside of the goal post drawing a collective groan from the Mountaineer faithful.
The game-changing moment came with just 1:23 to play in the second period, with the faceoff in the Mountaineer end. The puck was dangerously in front of the Berlin goal. After two failed clearing attempts, it was the puck hungry McPherson that fired his shot past Labrecque for a 2-0 lead. The goal truly took the life out of the legs of the Mountaineers.
In the final period, the Mounties had to begin to take chances to try and reduce their deficit and to solve the goaltending excellence of Kennett's Johnny Biggio. There was 5:59 left to play in the contest and with the glimmer of hope fading, the Eagles put a stamp on their championship ticket. The Mounties attempted to pinch in on the blue line in the Kennett end when defender Mackenzie Murphy made a perfect feed off the boards to a streaking Doucet. Doucet had been silenced twice in the first period, but this time he had Labrecque's number and went high into the netting for a 3-0 lead.
Late in the game, Berlin/Gorham pulled Labrecque with 1:27 left on a faced-off in the Eagle end. It took just 14 seconds for Kennett to work it out into the center ice area when Doucet out-skated everyone and calmly fired his shot into the open goal to put an exclamation mark on the game with a 4-0 final score.
The final seconds clicked off the clock with the Kennett student body celebrating a long awaited five years of being the Division III champions.
For the game, Kennett's Biggio stopped all 18 shots he saw for his second straight playoff shutout victory. At the other end Labrecque had 26 blocks, many on the spectacular side.
"Our senior class of Owen Dorval, Damon Ruel, Leo Croteau, Brandon Gleason, Noah Giroux, and Preston Cyr will be missed from our program," saod Poulin. Owen was a main cog in our lineup for four years. He has leadership abilities and will be missed.Damon and Leo both had solid roles this season and filled some huge gaps in our lineup. Brandon and Preston would play any role given to them, whether starting or supporting on the bench all teams need players like them. Noah Giroux definitely deserves some accolades after volunteering to be our backup Varsity and starting JV goaltender. Not many players would do that, it was greatly appreciated."