Since 2010, Kimball Union has been amongst the elite programs in New England prep school hockey. The Wildcats have won three small school crowns since then, but up until this year, the prestigious Elite Tournament championship had eluded them
Not any more.
Buoyed by a three-goal burst in the first period, KUA took home the 2017 Stuart/Corkery (Elite) championship, downing Rivers 6-2 at St. Anselm College.
The win was the 32nd victory of the season for the Wildcats, who finish up at 32-5-2, a big season coming after the program had to replace several key players.
“We felt we had a chance to compete for the NEPSAC title, but we had some big skates to fill from the previous year,” said Kimball Union coach Tim Whitehead. “We knew we would be quite inexperienced on defense in particular. One of the keys to our success this season was to develop players who were comfortable in a variety of roles.”
Just 1:34 into the game, defenseman Sean Thomson put the Wildcats on top 1-0. Thomas Samuelsen and Kyle Penney drew assists on the goal.
Senior Roope Hirvonen made it 2-0 at 5:09, and later in the period, the lead was extended to 3-0 as defenseman Bryce Dolan fired home the puck, with assists to Mike Lombardi and Hirvonen.
“We wanted to continue generating offense in the second period, but Rivers made a big push and we were back on our heels most of the period,” Whitehead said. “We were able to block some of Rivers’ shots, and when they got through, our goalie Sean Dynan was sharp between the pipes to help us weather the storm and head into the third period up 3-1.”
Rivers (24-5-2) did control a good portion of the second period, but could only cut into the margin by one goal. It came at the 14:34 mark from sophomore defensemen Tony Andreozzi.
KUA got a huge goal at 9:55 of third period to regain the three-goal advantage at 4-1. Hirvonen notched his second of the game, assisted by Bobby Young.
The Red Wings refused to go quietly, though and closed to within two goals again at 14:36 on a Michael Young strike while the Wildcats were on a power play.
But, Rivers would get no closer. Empty-net goals from Kyle Shero and Andranik Armstrong sealed the deal for KUA.
“We took full advantage of the break between the second and third periods to refocus on executing our game plan,” Whitehead said. “We knew it wouldn’t come easily, so we recharged our batteries and got back to work.”
To reach the final, Kimball Union beat Thayer (2-1 in OT) and Dexter (2-1). Rivers knocked off Belmont Hill (3-1) and Phillips Exeter (5-2).