PLYMOUTH — The No. 4 seeded Berlin High School boys' hockey team was eliminated from the NHIAA Division III Hockey Tournament with a 4-2 defeat at the hands of No. 1, John Stark-Hopkinton, Wednesday night at the Plymouth State Unversity hockey rink before a loud and boisterous crowd. Things started out early and not so good for Berlin as John Stark-Hopkinton scored twice in the first period, one at 1:17 and then later at 6:08, to shock the North Country Fans in attendance. Berlin got "beat deep" too many times and were fortunate to be only down 2-0 after that initial period.
Period 2 started out much like the first one, as again the General Hawks scored at .51 to put them up 3-0, However, shortly after that, the Mountaineers had an excellent opportunity to get on the board but couldn't connect. To make more problems for Berlin, two back-to-back penalties for tripping and slashing gave the Hawks plenty of opportunities to score on a power play but just didn't/couldn't capitalize. At the conclusion of the penalty, Tyler Rousseau came off the team bench and timed it perfect for a breakaway, which he misfired on the first two shots, and kept pressing to almost score on the third try.
At 10:13 John Stark-Hopkinton was called for interference, and even though Berlin High had a couple of great chances, the Mountaineers did not score. Finally, at 13:34, Rousseau scored with assists from Brayden Riendeau and Ben Estrella to get them back in the game (3-1) and get the Berlin crowd going. That lasted for just about 1 minute as John Stark-Hopkinton scored to up the score to 4-1 going into the final break.
Berlin had a power play early in period 3, with nothing to show for it and then a delay of game penalty was called on them to give John Stark-Hopkinton a power play advantage. Here, the Mountaineers surprised everyone when Estrella sent Rousseau in on a partial breakaway and to the delight of their fans, he tucked the puck in the back of the net for a score to narrow the gap to 4-2. Soon after, Trent Labrecque had a great pad and then glove save, and his teammates had 3 tremendous chances to score at the other end, to no avail, all in the span of about a minute and a half.
Tension filled the air for us, the team and the coaches, as Berlin pressed, and eventually at about 13:40, pulled Labrecque for the extra skater but the buzzer sounded with John Stark-Hopkinton headed to the finals against No. 2, Monadnock-Fall Mountain on Saturday, and Berlin headed home with a very respectable 13-7 record.
Remarkably, Berlin High School outshot John Stark-Hopkinton 24-21, but giving up those three goals early in the first two periods and that last goal late in Period 2 definitely put them at a distinct disadvantage. It is difficult to come back on a team of John Stark-Hopkinton's caliber.
Yes, any game that teams play in, they want to win, and the Berlin High School hockey team is no exception. But I have to say, they have nothing to be ashamed of. They had a few breakdowns that the General Hawks took advantage of (that's what No. 1 teams can do) and those setbacks could have been totally demoralizing, but they never showed that, as the Berlin boys kept their composure throughout, working hard right up to the end. Mind you, the General Hawks averaged 170 pounds per player, with 11 players 6 feet tall or better and with their starting goalie standing at 6 foot, 4 inches and weighing in at 250 pounds, while Berlin tipped the scales at 142 pounds per player, with two guys over 6 feet tall. But they played "big" and did not back down ever, and I don't think (and certainly hope not) anyone was not impressed with their persistence and determination.
Coach Mike Poulin said, "The coaching staff was very proud of the team, yes we lost, but it was not from lack of effort. They played an excellent third period and had a number of quality chances but couldn't find the back of the net. The players were upset and the underclassmen were sad and they hurt for the seniors. During this excellent season we became more than a team, we became a family."
No. 1 John Stark-Hopkinton defeated No. 2 Monadnock-Fall Mountain, 1-0, on Saturday in the finals of Division III Hockey.