Pinkerton Academy's greatest strength this winter can be summed up in two words: potting pucks.
Yet a defensive play in the closing minutes of the Division I boys' hockey final helped the preseason-favorite club from Derry hold on for a nail-biting 3-2 win.
“The crowd was so loud, it was (about) settling them down (during a time out),” Pinkerton coach Casey Kesselring said. “I said, 'Hey, we're up one. We're in the driver's seat. All we need to do is play a solid 5 minutes and bring it home.”
Ryan Hall – in front of an estimated 3,000 fans – made the stop that cemented the victory March 10 at Verizon Wireless Arena.
The senior defenseman disrupted a golden chance for Manchester Memorial High to pull even with a furious third-period comeback. Brady Bilodeau on a mini-breakout charged toward netminder Matt Marchman with three minutes, 25 seconds left in regulation.
Hall, trailing the play, stretched and poke the puck away. Bilodeau never had the chance to launch the potential game-tying bid.
“That was big. He's going in to tie it. Ryan gets all puck,” Kesselring said. “He probably would tell you, honestly, that he got caught out of position a bit. But he made up for it. That was the main thing.”
The top-seeded Astros (19-2-0 Div. I) controlled play for the majority of the contest. They built a commanding three-goal lead with markers from J.D. Dudek (first period), Zach Sanford (second period) and Dominic Corsetto (third period).
But, as the clock dipped below the 7-minute mark, the second-seeded Crusaders (16-5-0 Div. I) erupted for two goals in a 25-second span.
“We got down three goals. We talked to the kids,” Memorial coach Mark Putney said. “There was no quit in this team.”
Colin Williamson one-timed Bilodeau's back-door feed. Jacob Boylan, on the next shift, lofted a backhand shot from the slot.
The comeback was on. Memorial – seeking its first hockey title since 1995 – was within striking distance with 6-plus minutes to play.
Then, the bid to tie emerged. Memorial's senior captain, the club's heart-and-soul leader, had the puck on his stick with the game up for grabs.
But he never pulled the trigger. Hall didn't allow it.
“We definitely put on the pressure,” Bilodeau said. “We fought hard. They played a great game defensively, even offensively. Great coaching. You really can't say anything bad about them.”
Division II – Sophomore goaltender Stevan Tempesta made 26 championship-game saves, the last 11 stops nothing short of sensational. Top-seeded Bedford High, also on the strength of Kurt Mitchell and Jason Campbell goals, dethroned defending champion and 3-seed Dover High, 2-1.
Bedford (17-3-0 Div. II), as a result, skated to its first hockey crown March 10 at Verizon Wireless Arena. Dover, unable to bury the equalizer in the final minute, finished 14-6-0 in league action.
Tempesta turned back multiple game-tying bids with the state title at stake. Dover's odd-man rush generated a golden chance. A scrum for the puck in heavy traffic also gave the Green Wave hope.
“You hold on for that final 10 seconds and it's the longest 10 seconds in your life. I just didn't want to blow it,” Tempesta told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “That was probably my best game all season.”
Division III – Kennett High of Conway claimed its third championship, each of them won during an unprecedented run of league dominance. The top-seeded Eagles, appearing in a league-record fifth straight final, edged No. 2 seed Alvirne High of Hudson, 4-3, in overtime.
Anthony LaRusso locked up the win. The junior forward buried a feed to the back door with 26.3 seconds remaining in the extra session March 10 at Verizon Wireless Arena.
The goal was LaRusso's second of the contest. Kennett capped its campaign at 20-1-0 overall (19-1-0 Div. III) and secured hardware to go with the 2009 and 2010 NHIAA plaques.
Alvirne, playing for its first hockey championship, finished with an 18-2-0 league record.
Division I (girls) – The first line of Maddie Dewhirst, and twin sisters Madison and Tessa Hill all closed their careers as 100-point scorers.
The senior trio also factored in all five goals of the final, fueling second-seeded Hanover High's 5-1 championship win over Upper Valley rival and top seed Lebanon High March 10 at Verizon Wireless Arena.
Hanover (16-2-0 Div. I) celebrated its third consecutive championship, and fourth No. 1 finish in the five years of NHIAA girls' hockey. Lebanon ended its season 16-2-0 in league play.
Madison Hill struck for a title-game hat trick. Dewhirst delivered two goals and two assists. Tessa Hill tallied five assists.
HOOP CHAMPS CROWNED
Division I girls – For the first time in a long time, a program other than Hampton's Winnacunnet High won the large-school state title. Nashua's Bishop Guertin High finished No. 1.
Top-seeded Guertin edged 3-seed Londonderry High, 46-43, in front of nearly 1,200 fans March 10 at Southern New Hampshire University. Sophomore point guard Jamie Sherburne drained two clutch free throws with 3.7 seconds left in regulation to extend BG's slim one-point lead.
Seconds earlier, Lindsey Bolduc pulled the Lancers within a point. The senior went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line with 7.5 seconds on the clock.
“What an exciting game,” BG junior standout Meghan Green told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “It got kind of nerve-wracking at the end, but we all had faith in our team and Jamie.”
Green paced the Cardinals with 17 points and 17 rebounds in the final.
Guertin celebrated a 21-1 season. Londonderry, after dethroning five-time champ Winnacunnet with a 51-42 decision in the semifinals, finished 19-3.
Division II girls – Souhegan High started its title defense 4-3. But the Amherst squad closed with 14 wins in 15 games, including a 53-27 championship round triumph over North Sutton's Kearsarge Regional.
Sophomore forward Mickenzie Larivee led fifth-seeded Souhegan (18-4 Div. II) in the March 9 final at SNHU, scoring a game-high 16 points. Star senior Jane White, a force in the team's title run a year earlier, largely played the role of decoy and still delivered an 11-point effort.
Sixth-seeded Kearsarge finished 17-5.
Division III girls – White Mountains Regional did something in the March 3 final at SNHU that no other team in the league accomplished this season: it defeated defending champion Campbell High.
The No. 3-seed Spartans scored a 56-51 win over the top-seeded squad from Litchfield, snapping its 39-game win streak in the process.
Appearing in its first final since 1999, White Mountains (20-2 Div. III) was paced by 6-foot 1-inch center Bryanna Bennett who recorded a 19-point, 20-rebound double-double.
Wheaton College-bound Becca Arnone, a 1,000-point and 1,000-rebound star, was contained to two points and four rebounds for Campbell (21-1 Div. III).
Division III boys – Curtis Arsenault hit the third-quarter, buzzer-beating shot that ignited a fourth-quarter rally. The halfcourt heave cut into a nine-point deficit, and propelled No. 1-seed Berlin High to a 53-51 championship win March 10 over sixth-seeded Prospect Mountain High of Alton.
Arsenault finished with 15 points. Berlin (21-1 Div. III) celebrated its first hoop title since 1940.
Patrick Cassidy paced Prospect Mountain (16-6 Div. III).
Division IV girls – A championship can be decided in the first quarter. Littleton High proved it.
The top-seeded Crusaders, facing No. 2-seed Pittsfield High at Plymouth State University March 10, scored all 15 points of the first frame. The strong start fueled a 46-29 decision.
Alyssa Keefe hit for eight points in the pivotal quarter, and finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Littleton closed its season 21-1. Pittsfield finished 20-2.
Division IV boys – The Panthers of Moultonborough Academy celebrated perfection, a 22-0 campaign.
Drew Swedberg scored a team-high 15 points, all of them in the second half, as the top-seeded Panthers edged No. 2 seed Littleton, 54-50, at PSU March 10.
Sam Brammer scored a game-high 22 points to lead Littleton (20-2 Div. IV).
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.