Avon Old Farms and veteran coach John Gardner are, after a few years, back in a familiar perch, on top of the Boys Prep hockey world.
The Winged Beavers are the 2023 Stuart/Corkery Elite 8 champions, defeating top seed Cushing, 3-1, in Sunday’s title game before a packed Sullivan Arena at St. Anselm College. It was Gardner’s and Avon’s ninth New England championship, but first one since the 09-10 season.
After a scoreless first period, Avon was able to break the scoreless tie 3:24 into the second stanza. Won-Jun Yun got the goal, assisted by Sam Houston and Charlie Gollob.
The Penguins, who like Avon, entered the title game with just two losses, dominated play at times in the second period, but could only get one past Avon netminder Stephen Peck, who was at his best on this day.
The Cushing goal came during a flurry in front of Peck. A.J. Sacco was able to get his stick on the puck and tapped it home making it a 1-1 game going into the third period.
Early on, the Penguins were whistled for a pair of penalties, giving Avon a 5-on-3 advantage. And they capitalized. The eventual game-winning goal was scored by Joe Odyniec from down low in the slot It was now 2-1 Avon with just under 15 minutes to play.
Avon Old Farms are your 2023 NE Prep Elite Champions, courtesy of a powerplay GWG from Joe Odyniec in the 3rd period. AOF wins 3-1 over a tough Cushing Academy team. Congrats to all!!@AOF_Hockey@CushingBHockey@NEPSAC pic.twitter.com/DDDMibSYTh— Hockey Night (@HNIBonline) March 6, 2023
Avon and Peck were able to hold off Cushing’s offensive attack. Penguins coach Paul Pearl pulled netminder Cooper Rautenstrauch for a sixth attacker, but instead it was Avon’s Alex Pelletier that sealed the deal, burying an empty-netter from his own zone for the 3-1 final.
“A game does not always follow a plan but I thought we got great goaltending from Stephen Peck and weathered a Cushing storm in the second period,” said Gardner. “We converted quickly on our 5-on-3 power play to get a lead and for the last 10 minutes of teh game played outstanding defensive hockey to get the win.”
To reach the title game, Avon had convincing wins over Westminster (5-1 in the quarterfinals) and Belmont Hill (7-2 in semifinals). The Winged Beavers finished the year at 22-2-4.
Cushing ended an outstanding season at 25-3-4. The Penguins beat Kimball Union 6-2 in the quarterfinal round, and Brunswick 2-1 in the semifinals.
“It was really a great group of players led by captains Nick Capasso and Jordin Palmer who got the job done by becoming a determined and gritty team that competed game in and game out,” said Gardner.