Brooks, St. Mark's claim NEPSAC hockey titles

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. -- Things were measuring up so wonderfully for Brooks. After taking the lead midway though the second period, they tacked on a couple more scores early in the third to put Belmont Hill into a major hole. As the final period lingered, their advantage appeared safe. But suddenly lightning struck for Hillies.

Belmont Hill netted a pair of unassisted tallies within a span of 20 seconds late to draw to within a goal.

Suddenly Brooks' comfort level had vanished into thin air. But with Hillies head coach Jeremiah McCarthy forced to pull goaltender Matt Barrow for the extra attacker in the final minute, Brooks' mindset never altered as they were determined to finish this game out on a high note.

That is exactly what transpired after Jack Goodwin sealed Belmont Hill's fate with an empty net goal coming with 50 seconds left to lift Brooks to a 4-2 triumph in Sunday night's Martin/Earl Large School championship played at Thomas. F. Sullivan Arena on the campus of Saint Anselm College.

"For a second there we had a couple of breakdowns," said Brooks head coach Dave Ries, who two years ago, led Brooks to a Piatelli/Simmons Small School title. "But it didn't feel on the bench like anything had changed. You didn't see our kids get rattled. I think those two goals sort of woke us up a little bit and they all felt that they needed to get back to doing the little things, paying attention to detail and really clamping down and playing our game. I thought the kids did a great job of that the rest of the way and were rewarded for it."

After a scoreless opening period, No. 3 Brooks (21-5-4) got on the board at 10:13 of the middle frame. Henry Cormier, a junior forward, re-directed a Max Kahn slapshot in front of Belmont Hill goalie Matt Barrow for a 1-0 lead. Brooks had to settle for the lone score as Barrow (20 saves) kept the cage closed for the remainder of the period.

But that would all change one period later.

Poised to get its offense back in gear, Brooks wasted no time extending its lead. Junior Paul Capozzi was part of an odd-man rush on Barrow. With Max Rand serving as the trailer, the freshman dished a pass over to Capozzi, who deposited it into the net at 1:41. Less than two minutes later, Cormier would make his presence felt yet again. Cutting across the front of the crease, the Lexington native lifted a shot by Barrow to make it 3-0.

"Jumping out to that lead was a big deal for us," Cormier said. "We knew we needed to keep our foot on the gas. This win means everything for our school. Obviously, with two overtime wins in the playoffs (over St. Sebastian's and Choate) we just worked our butts off and we deserve this. Everyone on this team played a perfect game tonight and that is what we needed. We all knew what we needed to do and got the job done."

Back in late February, Belmont Hill blanked Brooks 4-0. Cormier said that loss was fresh in the back of everyone's minds coming into this contest.

After Cormier's second score, Brooks' turned its focus on tightening up its defense, attempting to make life miserable for Belmont Hill inside its own zone. For the most part, they succeeded in that plan. But the Hillies refused to go down gracefully.

At 15:45, Charlie Barrow, off a turnover, scored to make it 3-1. Before the celebration of that goal ended, Belmont Hill found the back of the net again. This time it was Christian O'Neill doing the honors, taking control of a turnover and slipping a shot past Max Prawdzik (21 saves) to make it a one score contest and keep things interesting.

"They took it to us and were the better team," McCarthy said. "Brooks played outstanding, made good, fundamentally sound decisions and put themselves in a position to win. They are great champions. With the exception of our two goals late in the period I thought they carried the play throughout."

The gutty comeback attempt by the fourth-seeded Hillies (17-7-8) came to a close once Goodwin was able to send his shot into the open net to secure the triumph.

"We felt good being up 1-0 after two periods but I think the two quick ones to start the third really gave us another gear," said Ries. "The guys felt that groove and really turned it on and did a good job. They focused and played a good period."

Piatelli/Simmons: St. Mark's 3, Westminster 1

For St. Mark's head coach Carl Corazzini, it may not get any better than this.

In just his first season at the helm, Corazzini finished his inaugural campaign in grand style by hoisting the Piatelli/Simmons Small School championship trophy after his Lions slipped past Westminster, 3-1.

"Westminster came out and were more aggressive from the start," said Corazzini, who came here after a successful stint at Weston High School. "They had more depth than we had. Our best player today was (goaltender) Ryan Ferland and that is why we won this game today."

Ferland, a junior finished with 26 stops. In the third period alone, with Westminster picking up its offensive intensity, Ferland swiped aside 10 attempts to keep the Martlets at bay.

The top-seeded Lions (23-4-3) led 2-0 after two periods. But just 13 seconds into the final frame, Westminster forward Johnny McDermott broke in for a goal, cutting the deficit to one. For the remainder of the period, the third-seeded Martlets (15-11-2) continued to pester St. Mark's inside their own zone. But to the Lions' credit, they did a nice job of forcing Westminster out along the perimeter, dropping down to block shots in front of Ferland.

As for those chances which managed to get through, Ferland, from Franklin, held his ground to snuff them out and in the process, denying the Martlets a chance to win their second postseason title in four years. Westminster took home the Martin/Earl Large School crown in 2011. With a little less than five minutes remaining, Owen Allen gave St. Mark's back its two goal lead after pushing back a rebound and sealing things for the Lions.

"We held our own and it was nice to make the postseason tournament," said Martlets head coach Tim Joncas. "We had a really good run but ran into a very good team tonight that defended well, were opportunistic, took advantage of a couple of bad mistakes and buried some pucks. Their goalie played great and, as a team, they blocked a ton of shots in front of him. St. Mark's did everything they needed to do to win this game."

A lackluster second period, in which both teams carried much of the play between the blue lines, finally gained some strength in the closing minute. Martlets defenseman Joe O'Connor had initially thought he scored the tying goal with a shot from the right side of the crease. But officials had ruled the net came off its moorings prior to the puck sliding getting through.

Then, with time ticking down, the Lions initiated one final march before intermission. It would pay off off as Adam Lee, standing behind the Westminster goal, found Brendan Dawson out in front. With 8 seconds left, the senior grabbed Lee's feed and sent a one-timer past Martlets goaltender Nick Sanford (13 saves), who never saw the puck until it reached the back of the net, sending St. Mark's off to its locker room holding a two goal advantage with one period to go.

"Everything today started with our goalie who kept us in this game," said Lee, who finished with two assists. "We just worked as hard as we could and proved that good things do happen. Once we scored that third goal it was huge for us. They were coming on strong and we knew it was going to be close. Once we scored that goal late in the third our whole bench erupted. To win it all, I couldn't be more-prouder of my teammates and coaches. It's been an unbelievable season."

While Westminster controlled much of the offense in the opening period, it was the Lions who struck first. Breaking down the ice on an odd-man rush, Zach Tsekos and Lee converted on a nice give-and-go with Lee dishing off a one-touch pass to Tsekos, who completed the play with a shot low glove side on Sanford.

"Westminster is an Elite 8-type of team and I think we came in a little nervous as to what we would face so to get that first goal from Zach was big for our confidence," said Corazzini, a former Boston University hockey captain. "This team has a lot of grit and character and the kids have been able to fight through adversity all season. Getting that late goal in the second was huge for us heading into the third."