Friday, March 1, 2013
By TOM KING
Kurt Mithoefer looked on the bright side.
“I told them better to get the one loss now, as opposed to going all the way to the playoffs and having it be in the playoffs or the finals,” the Merrimack High School hockey coach told his players after they suffering their first loss of the regular season, 2-1, at the hands of Bedford on Thursday at West Side Arena.
Thus, with a goal by the Bulldogs’ Ben Philbrick at 7:06 of the third period, the Tomahawks’ dream of an unbeaten season in Division II disappeared.
The Bulldogs certainly staked their claim as a team worthy of a title. They are now 12-3-2, having beaten Goffstown and the Tomahawks on back-to-back days, and could conceivably get through a stretch of three games in four days unscathed.
“We wanted to keep (Merrimack’s) offense quiet,” Bedford coach Marty Myers said. “In order to keep their offense quiet, we wanted to control the puck. Our game was to keep the play down low, close to their net, and make sure they don’t get us on the odd-man rush.”
The ’Hawks didn’t have many of their patented break-ins, and when they did Bedford goaltender Steve Tempesta (24 saves) was brilliant as the last wall of defense.
He got some big help from a post on a Connor Powell breakaway attempt late in the second period.
Bedford was up 1-0 at the time thanks to a Chris Viola wrister, assisted by Chris O’Hara and Kurt Mitchell, at 3:29 of the second.
“Fantastic,” Myers said of his goalie’s performance. “Fantastic. We rely heavily on him.
“He saved the ones he’s supposed to and even the ones he’s not supposed to.”
He couldn’t stop Merrimack’s Josh Roy from converting a centering pass from Ryan Downie just 56 seconds into the third to tie the game 1-1.
But just over six minutes later, Philbrick broke into the Tomahawks’ zone, covered well by Merrimack defenseman Kyle Feeney, and skidded a shot that just beat ’Hawks goaltender Brett Glendye (19 stops) stickside.
“(Glendye) was sliding one way and (Philbrick) made a good shot, against the grain,” Mithoefer said. “Shot back from where he just came from. As a goalie, you can’t cover it.”
Not long after, Tempesta came up big on a shot by the ’Hawks’ Tyler Brewster on his doorstep. It was that kind of frustrating day for Merrimack’s usually potent offense.
Last year the Tomahawks had high hopes of getting to the finals and Spaulding knocked them out in the quarters. That’s why, when asked about this year’s tourney, Merrimack coach Kurt Mithoefer was non-committal.
“In tournaments, quirky things happen,” he said. “Last year we were higher seeded and Spaulding had the hot game. Really, any of the top eight teams can win it. They get pucks in the net or goalie stopping shots, they can win it. I look at all of them at the same level.”
Merrimack, until it ran into the Bedford buzzsaw, was playing at another level led by Connor Powell’s 32 goals. But Powell was kept off the board by the Bulldogs’, well, bulldog-style of getting the puck down deep in the zone and preventing numerous odd-man breakouts.
“Connor’s a talented kid, he can fight off the pressure,” Mithoefer said. “Goffstown (possible quarterfinal matchup) tried that, we fought through that. I don’t think a lot of kids or a lot of teams are going to match up and be able to shut him down; he’s a talented kid, he’s quick, he can get around stuff like that.”
Spaulding remains tough with scorers Brent Phillips (18 goals at last look) and Justin Jewell (14), and they beat Bedford 4-3 in the regular season. The two best goalies in the league are Merrimack’s Brett Glendye and Bedford’s Stevan Tempesta, and those two would help make a great title game (Bulldogs are seeded third). Bow would be a darkhorse.
“It could be anyone,” Bedford coach Marty Myers said. “It’s going to be a fun tournament. ... We’ve always had a good rivalry with Merrimack.”