In 2013, a freshman named Nathan DeLuca scored the first goal for Woodstock Academy as a varsity hockey program. Coach Mike Starr remembered it on March 18 at Ingalls Rink after that kid, grown up into a senior captain, scored the winning goal in the Division III championship game.
DeLuca’s goal on a short-handed two-on-none, the second of his three goals in the game, broke a tie on the way to a 7-3 win over Hall/Southington, giving the Centaurs a title in just their fourth varsity season.
“I knew last year’s senior class would be something we could build around,” Starr said. “This senior class was determined. They weren’t going to let it slip away.”
Hall/Southington, pesky to teams in all weight classes all season, wouldn’t go quietly. Jacob Mohr reached into the crease to backhand home a goal a split-second before the second-period buzzer to cut Woodstock’s lead to 3-2. The Warrior Knights tied it nine seconds into the third period, Jeremy Fortin going to the front of the net to take Mohr’s feed and beat Cal Wilcox, giving Fortin and Mohr three points apiece.
The Warrior Knights carried the next six minutes, too, and earned the game’s only power play.
“We knew we had to get the next (goal),” DeLuca said. “We’d thought we had to get the next one coming out for the third.”
It was DeLuca who got it, killing a penalty alongside freshman Jake Starr. A deflected puck caromed high and hard off the glass next to the Woodstock bench. DeLuca chipped it past a defenseman caught in-between, giving himself a two-on-none up the left wing with the freshman to his right. “I heard (Jake Starr) yelling “don’t pass it,” DeLuca said. He beat Zach Monti over the glove with 8:54 left.
Three more goals, all in 77 seconds, put it away.
The Centaurs finished 22-2-1, including 15-1 against Division III opponents. The one loss was to Hall/Southington, 3-2, late in the regular season. The Warrior Knights were 12-10-3, but 10-4-2 against Division III foes; they had a pair of losses to WMRP, the team they beat in the semifinals, and two to Woodstock Academy.
“That (Hall/Southington) team works hard,” DeLuca said. “They beat us to loose pucks. Every single time I had the puck — when I didn’t have the puck — they had a body on me.”
In 2009, St. Joseph won this division in its fourth varsity season. A couple of years later, the seeds of Woodstock’s program were sown.
“When we started the program, it started as kind of a pipe dream. A bunch of parents kind of got together,” Mike Starr said.
They got the OK for 2011-12 and had to decide whether to play as a varsity program right away. “We had 16 kids try out,” Starr recalled. “Two of them were goalies. Three or four of them couldn’t skate.”
They played two years of junior varsity before that first varsity game, Dec. 21, 2013, in Holyoke, Mass., against Chicopee Comp. The Centaurs lost 5-3. They have not lost a whole lot since. The program is 59-28-1 in four years, 42-7-1 in the past two. And that’s after that first team went 6-10. They’ve developed into one of the most explosive groups in the state, a high-octane offense capable of scoring four goals in the last nine minutes of a state-championship game, the last three in 77 seconds.
“It’s actually hard to play them physical,” Cannon said. “You’re chasing them. We don’t want to chase them, but. “You’re not going to stop Nathan DeLuca with a half-(hearted) hit. He’s going to get right back out there like a Tasmanian devil.”
Avery Riva, a sophomore, scored two goals for the Centaurs, and seniors Ryan Black and Will Liscomb also scored. DeLuca had four points; Riva and Black, three apiece.
“As much as this win is for this program, this is for the kids who started the program and the kids coming up 10 years from now,” Starr said.
In the 2014 Division III tournament, Woodstock Academy played its first CIAC playoff game. It went to Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford. “They destroyed us,” DeLuca said. The team that destroyed the Centaurs? Hall/Southington, 9-2. Both teams had excellent seasons, Hall/Southington making its first final as a co-op (Hall had been there in 1993, winning the Division II title), Woodstock completing the journey from upstart to champion.
“It just speaks volumes about our program,” DeLuca said. “We’ll probably move up a division, maybe two, next year. … I’m sure they’re ready for the challenge, wherever they go. I wish I was still here.”