When coach Matt Goethals took over the Pomfret program at the start of the 2014-15 season, he knew he had some work to do, as the team was coming off a 3-21-2 season.
Now, just three years later, the Griffins can call themselves a New England champion.
At 13:20 of overtime, Ben Alofsin followed up a Chris Kral shot and was able to chip the puck past Cushing goaltender Joey Holstrom, giving Pomfret a 3-2 win over Cushing and the 2017 Boys Prep Small School championship Sunday at St. Anselm College.
Goethals’ teams won seven games that first season, and was 9-19-0 last winter. This year, Pomfret finishes at 16-8-4.
“Working with Greg Osborne, our main focus was to build a culture of hard work and accountability – on and off the ice,” Goethals said. “I’m grateful to the guys we had in year 1 and year 2 who worked hard and helped us get better each year. By year 3 we had a group that really understood the operation and were able to provide a great model for the younger players.”
Heading into this year, the feeling was that the Griffins could be a playoff contender.
“We felt we had a group that could earn a playoff bid,” Goethals said. “Didn’t think too far beyond that. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. Back to our senior leadership, they made big plays in big moments.”
The Pomfret win also put an end to a tremendous late-season streak put forth by Cushing, which had reeled off seven straight wins heading into the title game, including impressive post-season wins over Tilton and Gunnery.
On the game-winning goal, Kral broke out 2-on-1. A Cushing defensemen took away the pass so Kral moved in and shot. Halstrom stopped Kral’s bid, but Alofsin smartly followed up the play and was able to chop it over Halstrom and past a Cushing defender in the crease.
After a scoreless first period, Cushing (15-15-2) grabbed a 1-0 lead at 11:48 of the second period on a goal by Mike McGrath. Pomfret answered before the period came to a close on a goal by defenseman Alex Rondeau.
Phil Satin put the Griffins on top 2-1 early in the third period, but Cushing responded with 7:29 left in regulation to make it 2-2 when Matthew Guerra fired home a goal, assisted by Nolan McElhaney.
The overtime period was fairly even with Holstrom trading saves with Pomfret goaltender Peyton Durand, who had another strong game.
“Throughout the playoffs and really since mid-January, Peyton Durand has been our backbone,” Goethals said. “He’s played big and given us a chance to win every game. From there, we improved our play defensively and had timely scoring. We learned to manage games better, minimizing turnovers and playing a north-south game.
Again, our seniors instilled a mindset into this team from the beginning of the season. They expected to win close games. And we won a number of them this year, right down to the playoffs.”
Pomfret beat Winchendon 5-3 in a quarterfinal game, and topped New Hampton 4-2 in Saturday’s semifinal.