March 2, 2014

Kimball Union tops Dexter in Small School Championship

By Arielle Aronson

Chris Shero, center, opened the scoring for Kimball Union in their 5-1 win over Dexter. (Photo by Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- There’s a saying among coaches that good players don’t win championships -- good teams do. Kimball Union Academy proved that saying true Sunday afternoon when they beat Dexter, 5-1, to win the Piatelli/Simmons Small School Championship.

The Wildcats have plenty of talented players on their team -- Boston College recruit J.D. Dudek and Boston University recruit A.J. Greer are proof of that –their sound play as a team that earned them a championship trophy. And while Dexter boasts the uncontested best player in prep hockey this season in junior Ryan Donato, as a team, Dexter struggled to do the little things right all game. They could not stay out of the penalty box, failed to make clean passes and did not establish a consistent net-front presence.

Kimball Union saw five different players score in the win. Post-grad forward Chris Shero, son of Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, potted the first goal of the game with 5:44 left in the second period. The Wildcats doubled their lead less than three minutes later when a shot from the point from senior forward Jacob Paluch floated through traffic and past Dexter goaltender Pat Fraser to put the Wildcats up, 2-0.

But the Wildcats knew they would need to provide more offense in the third period if they hoped to hold off Dexter.

“It was important to get some separation,” said Kimball Union coach Tim Whitehead. “A 2-0 lead against such a great team like Dexter, with so many real good players there, Donato, [Liam] Feeney and the whole crew, we knew we needed at least one or two more to get some separation so that was a big swing in momentum, a couple quick goals.”

It took Kimball Union a little more than 10 minutes to find that offense in the third period, but once it came, it came quickly. Post-grad forward Bobby Hall beat Fraser top-shelf 10:23 into the period to give KUA a 3-0 lead, then senior forward Tyler Bird marched in on Fraser 13 seconds later and put one away low right corner to put the Wildcats up by a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 score with 7:24 left to play.

But there’s no keeping Donato, a player averaging 2.66 points per game off the board. Just seconds after Dexter senior Ian Sheridan’s shot from the slot rang off the crossbar. Donato whipped a rebound past Kimball Union goaltender Paul Leger to tighten the score to 4-1 with 5:13 to play.

“He’s such a special player that there’s honestly not a lot you can do sometimes other than just move your feet and defend,” Whitehead said of Donato. “Fortunately he only got one and that was a beauty. He probably could have had a few more. He’s a heck of a player.”

Any hopes of a miraculous Dexter comeback were squashed by a shut-down Wildcat defense and an empty-net goal off Dominic Franco’s stick with 53.9 seconds left to seal the 5-1 win for Kimball Union.

The championship was extra sweet for this Kimball Union team. Unlike the highly favored squads of the last few seasons, this team entered the season with a ton of uncertainty as it featured 16 new players and a new head coach. After battling through a 4-5-1 January, however, the Wildcats stepped up to play some of their best hockey, going undefeated in their final 11 games to capture the Piatelli/Simmons crown.

“It’s been a great ride,” Whitehead said. “The last dozen or so games, things have really just come together and everyone is just playing so hard for each other. It was a real group effort and I’m just so happy for the guys.”

Twitter: @aharonson28