Friday, March 15, 2013
While looking to become the best team, they picked the worst time to play their worst.
To be sure, the second period of the Merrimack High School Tomahawks’ 5-2 Division II boys hockey finals loss to Bedford was the lowlight of their 2012-13 season.
The Tomahawks were enjoying their first lead of the season on Bedford, up 1-0 after the first period. But three Bulldog goals during the middle 15 minutes, during which they outshot the Tomahawks by a decisive 18-5 margin, changed all that. And top-seeded Merrimack’s 18-3 season ended on a championship game downer for the second time in three years.
For Bedford, it was the second-straight Division II title, and it was the third time this postseason the Bulldogs fell behind in the first period.
“It’s tough,” said Merrimack head coach Kurt Mithoefer, an assistant on the team that lost in the 2011 finals to Dover. “It hurts. It always hurts. You get to the finals after having a great season and come up just short. It’s always tough.
“We did what we needed to do the first and third periods. That second period I’d like to have back. … We got away from the game plan.”
And the third-seeded Bulldogs (16-3-2), who got two goals from senior forward Chris O’Hara, put more emphasis on theirs and won a second straight crown.
“In between the first and the second, one of the things we wanted to do was bring up our shot count,” said Bedford coach Marty Myers. “Anytime you face (Merrimack goalie Brett) Glendye, he’s a great goalie. We wanted to put the shot count up on him, and we did. That’s for sure. And we wanted to chase loose pucks.”
“They came out with more fire in the second period than we did,” Glendye said. “And they just put a couple in.”
Connor Powell was the Merrimack highlight, along with Brett Glendye’s 28 saves. Powell scored two goals, including a power-play goal at 3:34 of the third period that brought the Tomahawks within two at 4-2. But it wasn’t enough for one of the state’s most potent offenses.
“You’ve got to come out, got to play, got to finish,” Mithoefer said. “I told them going into it you’ve got to play 45 minutes. We played about 35.”
Powell put the Tomahawks on top just 2:22 into the first period, when Josh Roy found him down low. His first attempt on Bedford goalie Stevan Tempesta (23 saves) rebounded in front, and he poked the loose puck home for the 1-0 Merrimack lead.
The Bulldogs were still more bullish in the second period, even after Glendye made the save of perhaps the year with his sprawling stop of a Joe Morin shot just 34 seconds in.
But just under a minute later, Bedford grabbed the lead with two goals 54 seconds apart.
First, with Roy in the box for roughing, Kurt Mitchell’s unassisted power-play backhander found the twine to tie the game 1-1 at 1:13.
Just 54 seconds later, Chris Viola appeared to catch Glendye off-guard with a long wrister above the left faceoff circle, and the Bulldogs led 2-1.
They made it 3-1 at 11:10 when, with Merrimack having trouble getting to the puck during a flurry, Neil Soucy beat Glendye gloveside with a wide angle shot. Michael Dee and Jason Campbell assisted.
Once again, the Bulldogs were helped by metal. Roy hit the post early in the first and Valluzzi the same on a power play in the second.
But perhaps those wouldn’t have made a difference. The Tomahawks were so out of sorts that, with the Bulldogs called for too many men on the ice early in the third, Bedford tallied a shorthanded goal that made it a 4-1 game. O’Hara picked Tomahawk Mark Feeney’s pocket at 2:40 and poked home his own rebound. Ouch.
“That was the turning point for us emotionally,” Myers said. “A team like Merrimack, they put pucks in the net in the blink of an eye.”
O’Hara’s second goal of the game, an empty-netter at 13:35, removed all doubt. Once again, the Tomahawks were forced to watch another team celebrate a championship.
Mainly because of one bad period in a season filled with good ones.
“We came out slow,” Powell said, “and they came out hot.”