Tigers stymied in title game

Seniors Casey Baker (16) and Doug Sattler console each other after losing the Division IIIA state championship game on March 15.

Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

March 21, 2012

By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

SPRINGFIELD — It was a heartbreaking end to an otherwise stellar season for the South Hadley High School hockey team.

The Tigers, playing in their fourth Division IIIA state championship game in as many years, battled hard but came up just short in their bid for a second-straight title, falling to Groton-Dunstable 4-3, in front of a crowd of more then 2,000 spectators at the MassMutual Center on March 15.

"We're all wicked sad, but we know we put up a good fight," junior defenseman Jeff Beauregard said. "We put all we can into it and we can't really ask for any more."

The thought of momentum was only a tease in this game. Every time one team found a way to get it on their side, their opponent swept in and stole it back.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was the Crusaders who swiped the momentum late in the game, potting the game-winner just two minutes after Chris Menard tied the game at 3-3 on a rebound off of Jake Knowles initial shot.

After South Hadley goalkeeper Devin Hoagland made the initial save on a shot from the outside, he was unable to corral the rebound. With no Tiger close enough to clear the puck, Groton-Dunstable's Nate Rabbitt knocked it home for the game's final tally.

"This is a game of mistakes and we tried to keep them to a minimum, but we made a few," South Hadley coach John Houle said.

The Tigers pulled the goalie in the final minute and had a couple opportunities to attempt to force overtime, but were not able to put one past Crusaders goalie Jason Robes.

It was that kind of game the whole way. South Hadley took the lead in the first period with 43 seconds remaining, but Groton-Dunstable fired right back just over 20 seconds later to tie it.

"We had the lead, but it was short-lived and especially coming out of the period, that was a big one," Houle said. "I hate giving those up. It was tough to go in the locker room like that and [Groton-Dunstable] came out pumped up in the second period."

The Crusaders didn't waste time in the second to pull ahead, potting a goal 1:14 into the period, but Joey Harris slid a rebound off Menard's shot past Robes to knot the game up 2-2.

But again, Groton-Dunstable pulled ahead, thanks to a power-play goal by C. J. Kenny, giving the Crusaders a 3-2 edge heading into the second intermission.

"That's what makes it so exciting," Houle said. "Neither team led by more than one goal the entire game."

Calling the Crusaders the "first real physical team we've played all year," Houle credited Groton-Dunstable with limiting the number of opportunities South Hadley had. The Tigers took just 18 shots on net.

"They covered our goal scorers. You could see it tonight. They were all over Spence [Nawrocki], Doug [Sattler], Chris [Menard]," he said. "Normally we're shooting 30 to 40 shots a game and scoring five or six goals, so I know that was part of their strategy coming into it."

For Harris, Sattler, Nawrocki, Casey Baker and Courtney McCrodden, it marked the end of a four-year run that saw the team win four consecutive Western Massachusetts championships and two state titles.

"I just talked to them in the locker room and they're bummed, but they had a great year and a great four years," Houle said. "It's quite an accomplishment and I'm proud of them. They worked hard and they earned it."

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