St. Thomas knew early in the season they had something special brewing and on Saturday they put an exclamation point on their magical season beating Portsmouth 7-1 in the NHIAA Division 2 state finals to cap their undefeated season. The Saints went a remarkable 20-0 in Division 2 and 23-0 overall including a Christmas tourney in Maine where they defeated Edward Little, one of Maine’s top teams this season.
When talking about the way the Saints came together and started this historic run, coach Dan Strabone said “I know we beat three good teams up in Maine and I thought after the Edward Little game I could sense we had something good going on.”
In front of a huge crowd at SNHU Arena, top-seeded St Thomas’ balanced offensive attack was too much for the third-seeded Portsmouth-Newmarket squad. Seven different scorers lit the lamp for the Saints and goalie Britton Dunbar stopped 15 of 16 shots on his way to his 19th win of the season.
Strabone said of his rock-solid goaltender “He (Dunbar) has been good all year for us, he’s been solid. I’ll never forget what he did for us in that second period of the semifinal game. He stood on his head, I’m not sure how he kept the puck out of the net. He kept us in that and had our back and then we had his back in the third period. He’s been great all year”
Portsmouth-Newmarket got on the board first when Travis Perkins threw a puck out from the corner that hit a Saints’ skate and found its’ way past Dunbar. That would end up being the only blemish on Dunbar for the rest of the day and it was time for the Saints offense to kick in. Dunbar backboned the team that only surrendered twenty-eight goals over 20 Division 2 games.
Saint Thomas was able to capitalize on back-to-back power play opportunities late in the first period.
Junior Colin Chrisom fired home a low wrist shot from the top of the circles that beat Portsmouth goaltender Jack Bussiere (27 saves). Just over a minute later it would be the other Chrisom twin, Brendan (1G 1A) that would score his own power play goal when he banked in a rebound from a Tanner Petalas (1G 2A) shot. The period would come to a close with the Saints leading 2-1 and outshooting Portsmouth 10-6.
In St Thomas’s semifinal game, the Saints erupted for six goals in the final period. In the finals, the Saints did most of their damage in the second period, scoring four goals to put the game out of reach. Gage Spagna, one of the heroes in the semifinal game, continued his hot streak when he banged home a rebound of a Connor Grey shot to put the Saints up 3-1. With 5:10 left in the period, Petalas tucked home a rebound off a Finn Connor (1G 1A) shot and the Saints started to pull away.
Lincoln Stone, the Saints lone senior, completed a pretty tic-tac-toe play from Spagna and Petalas that put the favorites up 5-1. Weston Trahan completed the second period scoring with just 13 seconds left when he fired home a shot from the bottom of the right circle off a feed from Jackson Estes.
Connor scored early in the third to round out the scoring for the Saints.
Portsmouth coach Joel Brown knew they had a tough task ahead of them heading into Saturday.
“They’re a much better team than any team we’ve played this year,” he said. “We thought we would give them a little better of a game than we did. Our guys are good. They’re more upset about not getting a chance to play with each other again than losing”
Portsmouth had their own version of a Cinderella story this season. A coaching change early in the season left the team with a lot of questions. The Clippermules exceeded expectations in the eyes of many and certainly surprised much of Division 2 while finishing third with a solid 12-5-1 record.
Portsmouth was competing in their school’s first championship game and although the outcome wasn’t as they had hoped, coach Brown still found some positives.
“Portsmouth doesn’t have a great reputation for hockey, they have a lot of other sports they’re known for. Hopefully we bring a little attention to the Seacoast area, Portsmouth specifically, and make hockey more of an exciting sport than it has been in the Portsmouth area.”
** Story by Brett Ricci