March 4, 2012

Kimball Union tops Holderness in Piatelli/Simmons finals

By Shawn Hutcheon

In front of a packed house at the Icenter in Salem, N.H., Kimball Union Academy faced off against the Holderness School in the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association tournament. Competing in the Piatelli/Simmons division, KUA was looking to win its second New England championship in three years. 

Kimball Union Academy's overtime win over Holderness gave the Wildcats their second title in three years. (Dave Arnold Photography)

The game opened as a tight-checking affair that saw a number of turnovers in the neutral zone as both clubs looked nervous, but goaltenders Ryan Lund of KUA and Holderness’ Andy Munroe were perfect in the first period. The teams went to their respective dressing rooms locked in a 0-0 tie. Kimball Union held the advantage in shots on goal at 10-8. 

The two New Hampshire-based teams appeared to begin feeling more comfortable at the outset of the second period. The passing was crisper, the skating was faster and the shots were harder, and it was Holderness’ Nick Renzi who took advantage of the faster pace by opening the scoring at the 9:01 mark. Bailey Walsh and Gordon Borek assisted on the lamplighter.

Johnathan Charbonneau tied the game for KUA 12:28 into the period. John McLeod assisted on the marker.

Kimball Union carried the play throughout the second period, as they registered 15 shots to Holderness’ eight.

The third period had everything a prep school fan could ask for and more. Both squads came out for the stanza intent on taking the championship trophy home and each played with the attitude that nothing would stop them.

KUA’s Niko Rufo gave his team a 2-1 lead 1:44 into the frame. The Stoneham, Mass., native carried the puck into the Holderness zone along the right wing then cut to his left across the crease and unleashed a wrist shot that went over Munroe’s glove. McLeod and Charbonneau drew the assists.

Following Rufo’s goal, Kimball Union buzzed the Holderness zone, creating several good scoring chances, but Munroe stood up to the test.

Watching their goaltender shine seemed to inspire the squad, and at 9:43, Holderness captain Gavin Bayreuther knotted the score with a power-play goal. The defenseman, who had an outstanding weekend, took a pass from William Kendrick in the neutral zone and skated the puck over the blue line before unleashing a slap shot that beat Lund low to the glove side. Mathew Thomas was also credited with an assist.

The goal gave Holderness a shot of momentum. They fore-checked with reckless abandon, giving themselves more opportunities to create scoring chances. However, Lund was up for the challenge and shut the door for the remainder of the period, forcing the contest to go to overtime tied at 2-2.

The overtime began with Kimball Union on the power play for 1:45, as Holderness’ Shawn Watson had taken an interference penalty with 15 seconds remaining on the clock in the third period. KUA put up many testing shots at Munroe but the netminder was up to the task, stopping three point-blank shots from Kimball Union’s vaunted power play.  

KUA continued to dominate the overtime session and with only 1:27 remaining, center Casey Miller (Billerica, Mass.) created a turnover below the goal line to the left of the Holderness net. Miller took control of the puck and sent a pass to the high slot onto a streaking Nick Roberto’s stick blade. Roberto snapped a quick wrist shot high over Munroe’s glove. When the puck hit the twine behind netminder, giving KUA a 3-2 victory, the building exploded with jubilant Kimball Union players and fans celebrating.

Outside an elated KUA dressing room, head coach Mike Levine described his feelings during the overtime.

“I was nervous,” Levine said. “They (Holderness) are an extremely well-coached team. They were playing hard and I was nervous.”

The coach had lofty praise for Roberto.

“For a while he was snake-bit,” the coach said, “but this weekend he put it together.”

Kimball Union’s bench boss offered the same assessment of his top-seeded squad.

“You know it’s a long season for these kids,” Levine said when asked about his clubs championship win. “They needed to work together as a unit instead of individually to get them through this weekend and I’m proud of them for that. We have a lot of winners in there and I think that’s important. Any time you can win a championship at any level, it’s special and it’s not easy.”

When asked to describe his game winning goal Roberto said, “It was because of Casey Miller. He did all the work. I just got all the credit for it. He had a nice stick and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and he found me perfectly. We had played these guys four times previously and I knew his (Munroe’s) weakness is up high, so I just figured I go up there and see what happens.”  

Roberto’s coaches, teammates and fans were ecstatic to see what happened when his shot went into the net, as the Wildcats reigned supreme in the Piatelli/Simmons tournament to earn their second title in the last three seasons.