Too often powerless on the power play and generally struggling to generate offense during the hockey season's first half, Hanover High tinkered with its top line.
If the first game with captain Peter Bensen centering Connor Gordon and Ryan Brigman was any indication, hovering-around-.500 Hanover could pose problems in Division I.
“In any sport you play, in any season, there's going to be a turning point … I think this is going to be our turning point,” Bensen said Jan. 28 after he paced the reigning state-runner-up to a commanding 5-2 road win over No. 2-ranked Manchester Memorial High at JFK Coliseum.
Perennial power Hanover owned a 4-4 record when it faced the league's only 10-win team. Losing 13 players from a year ago contributed to the club's mediocre mark.
Coach Dick Dodds felt change up front was needed.
Brigman moved from the blue line to right wing. It didn't take the long for Dodds' decision to pay off.
Hanover's senior winger buried a first-period rebound. The goal erased Memorial's early 1-0 lead, served as the first of Hanover's two power-play strikes, and set off a run of three unanswered goals.
“He created a lot of havoc in the offensive zone,” Dodds said. “It really helped. That group works well together. They had a nice game for us.”
Bensen (two goals, two assists), Gordon (goal, three assists) and Brigman (goal, two assists) factored in all five goals for the Marauders.
But Brigman's equalizer was significant for another reason: The goal was a quick response to falling behind midway through the opening frame.
Hanover trailed for a mere 3 minutes, 28 seconds.
Roles were reversed in the club's previous contest, a 3-2 home loss to Nashua North High. The Marauders twice surrendered markers within 50 seconds of tallying their goals.
“We just pointed out to our kids how important the next shift is,” Dodds said. “We worked on it in practice. So, it was encouraging to see us come back and score.”
The Marauders were oh-so-close to clinching a comeback win Feb. 1 against Concord High. The game ended in a 3-3 tie.
Hanover's three goals in the final frame erased a two-goal deficit. The club's third connection, a shorthanded goal with 73 seconds left, was offset by Concord's ability to capitalize in 5-on-3 play.
Five league games remain on the regular-season schedule for Hanover (5-5-1 Div. I).
New Hampshire's club from the Upper Valley starts the stretch with four straight road games. Defending champ Trinity High of Manchester (Feb. 11) and another bout with Concord (Feb. 15) are on the slate.
“I think that our team really thrives in a tough environment when we're under pressure,” Bensen said.
Hanover won't lack chances to prove it.
BITTER TASTE ERASED?
Reigning runner-up Trinity exacted a small bit of revenge Jan. 27 on the team that prevailed in last year's Division I boys' basketball final.
The Pioneers – pegged the championship favorites this season – administered a 74-43 beatdown to Nashua's Bishop Guertin High at McHugh Gym in Manchester.
Carmen Giampetruzzi, the football team's title-winning quarterback, led Trinity's attack with 19 points. The sophomore guard added eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Trinity's towering trio of Silvere Aluko (6-foot-10), Mabor Gabriel (6-foot-7) and Andrew Lauderdale (6-foot-6) owned the defensive and offensive backboards. Controlling the glass led to the Queen City squad building a 24-point halftime lead.
Lauderdale finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. Gabriel tallied a double-double (16 points, 13 rebounds).
“I still remember how it felt after losing the championship. We all do,” Trinity sophomore Carmen Giampetruzzi told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
“We wanted to come out and show the state how good we can play,” he added. “We got some revenge, but we haven't really won anything yet. Hopefully that comes at the end of the season.”
Litchfield's Campbell High and Bow High clashed in a key girls' basketball contest Jan. 31. The teams entered their marquee matchup atop the Division III standings with a combined 25-0 record.
The Cougars won in a cakewalk, 50-33.
Becca Arnone (15 points), Liz Pettis (14 points) and Hannah Neild (13 points) led defending champion Campbell, which improved to 13-0.
Campbell's turnover-inducing defense was critical to the lopsided win. Bow's struggles fueled Campbell's quick start and balanced scoring by quarter. The Cougars totaled 12 points in the first, second and third frames, and a 14-point effort in the fourth.
Lindsey Nerbonne's 12 points paced Bow (13-1), which trailed at halftime, 24-13. Kirsten Bresson added 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Recording a hat trick over the course of a game is noteworthy. Potting at least three pucks in a single 15-minute period qualifies as a career highlight.
David Downie and Colton McAllister, in the same week, proved the ultimate nightmare for opposing netminders.
Downie, a senior co-captain for Division II Merrimack High, scored all four of his team's goals in the first period Jan. 27 at Bow. The Tomahawks won, 4-0.
McAllister, a freshman for Division I Bishop Brady High of Concord, tallied three second-period goals Jan. 25 against visiting Trinity. McAllister's markers were among the six scored in the middle stanza by the Green Giants, 7-1 winners.
Coincidentally, both forwards celebrated the feat at Concord's Everett Arena.
Projected as the team to beat in Division II boys' basketball, Portsmouth High dropped consecutive contests Jan. 24 and 27. The Clippers were previously 8-0 in league play.
St. Thomas Aquinas High of Dover was the first team to defeat the Clippers. The Saints scored a 54-47 road win.
Standout point guard Kamahl Walker paced Portsmouth with a game-high 22 points. But STA's Andrew Kahr (21 points) and Jon Nartiff (12 points) led the upset efforts, also ignited by the team's relentless approach to rebounding.
Three days later, the Clippers took a five-point lead into the fourth quarter at Pelham High. The Pythons, however, finished the final frame on an 18-10 run.
Jake Vaiknoras (19 points) and Brett Bailey (10 points) led Pelham. In the fourth quarter alone, the tandem tallied 16 points to match the team-high total of Portsmouth's Walker.
St. Thomas Aquinas hosted its third annual “pink” game Feb. 4. The boys' hockey team sought to raise awareness – and $2,000 – in the fight against breast cancer.
Saints skaters wore pink sweater ties, pink skate laces, and wrapped their sticks in pink tape. Tickets for University of New Hampshire and Manchester Monarchs hockey games were among the 50 items to be featured in a silent auction.
STA's foe was Salem High. The Blue Devils raised $1,000 in their Jan. 28 contest promoting breast cancer awareness.
“The fact of the matter is that (breast cancer is) such a huge disease that takes over women in our lives,” STA coach Andrew Leach said. “In the future, it could be their wife, their mother. We talk about how you never know ... You have to realize the women in our lives can be taken away from us.”
Salem won the game, 4-2. But STA won big off the ice, raising $2,192.50 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Marc Thaler is a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He co-hosts the “N.H. High School Sports Show” on Manchester's WGIR-AM 610 and the Seacoast's 96.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. Read his “New Hampshire GameDay” blog and follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.