Hockey is a way of life in the mountainous “North Country” of New Hampshire and on Sunday, the Berlin-Gorham Mountaineers left their mark on local history when they knocked off Belmont-Gilford, 3-1 in the NHIAA Division 3 Finals at Plymouth State. Berlin-Gorham became the first Division 3 team to win three consecutive championships and they left no doubt in anyone’s mind why they have been considered the favorite all season.
Berlin-Gorham and Belmont-Gilford had squared off twice this season with the Mountaineers taking both games, 2-1 and 4-1. Sunday’s score of 3-1 doesn’t really tell the whole story, however. From the opening faceoff Berlin-Gorham had control of the game. They were able to take advantage of their speed by getting pucks deep in the zone and dominating both the shot count as well as zone time throughout much of the game. Belmont-Gilford goalie Colin Logan faced 35 shots throughout the contest and made some huge saves to keep his team within reach.
In the first period, Berlin-Gorham was unable to clear the puck and Bradley McIntire was able to beat Mountaineers keeper Kolin Melanson off a feed from Adam Ribiero and give the Bulldogs the surprising 1-0 lead with 4:36 left. The Bulldogs would go to the first intermission clinging to that one goal lead despite being outshot 9-3. Belmont-Gilford would only muster two more shots for the rest of the game.
The Mountaineers couldn’t solve Logan until the halfway point of the game. With 7:47 left in the second, after a flurry of shots and a mad scramble out front, Mountaineers junior Landyn Croteau finally put one past Logan when he chipped one just inside the left post. Griffin Melanson got the assist on the goal. That score would hold until late in the period when Berlin-Gorham would strike again.
With just over two minutes left in the period and Berlin-Gorham on the power play, Carter Poulin broke the tie and put the Mountaineers ahead for good. Poulin fired a shot that was redirected when it hit a Bulldog and eventually trickled past Logan to make it 2-1. Jonah Berthiaume picked up the assist on the go-ahead goal. By the end of the second the Mountaineers held a 2-1 lead but an overwhelming 21-3 shot advantage including a 12-0 differential for the second period.
The third period continued to be dominated by Berlin-Gorham and as the time ticked away, the near capacity crowd that had travelled from the mountain region eagerly awaited the final horn. Sophomore Jamison Walsh wrapped up the scoring when he added an empty net goal with two seconds left. The Mountaineers outshot Belmont-Gilford 13-1 in the final stanza and 35-5 overall.
The Mountaineers have gone an incredible 43-4-3 during the regular season over their three-year run including this year when they went 17-1 with their only defeat coming in overtime at the hands of Division 2 semifinalist, Somersworth-Coe Brown.
** Story by Brett Ricci