Woodstock — Moving up a division has been arduous for the Woodstock Union High boys hockey team, but the Wasps achieved a major breakthrough on Wednesday at Union Arena.
Trailing Champlain Valley Union, 3-1, with only six minutes remaining in the game, Woodstock rallied to score three goals in the span of 1:17 in a dramatic 4-3 victory.
The late charge — sparked by goals from Owen Coates, Daniel Robinson and Cullen McCarthy — improved the Wasps to 3-7-1 and gave them a greater sense of belonging in Vermont’s top tier.
“You can see their excitement,” Woodstock coach Jon Chamberlin said. “It’s like they’ve just been beat down, beat down and beat down. This is going to lift us. Hopefully it is a turning around.”
Woodstock, which was moved to Division I following last season’s successful 17-2-1 campaign in Division II, started slow against the Redhawks (6-3-2) by giving up two goals in the game’s first three minutes.
It initially looked like the Wasps’ early-season woes would continue, but the hosts found their groove after the wakeup call. Luc Issa cut the CVU lead in half by scoring on an assist from McCarthy with 1:04 left in the first period.
McCarthy collected the puck near the right corner before setting up Issa in front of the net. Issa’s first shot was deflected by CVU goalie Jake Kindestin, but the Woodstock forward scored on the second-chance rebound.
The Wasps carried the subsequent momentum through almost the entire second period before CVU’s Jake Schaefer scored on a counterattack just 5 seconds before the closing horn.
Woodstock, which got 32 saves from senior goalie Jason Drebber, heated up late. The unlikely turn of events began when Kindestin stopped an Issa breakaway, but coughed up a carom that Coates was able to convert.
Robinson sandwiched his wraparound equalizer between two third-period penalties.
“People say I’m an aggressive player, and it just happens sometimes,” Robinson said regarding his multiple trips to the sin bin. “It just comes with being that kind of player while I’m playing defense, I guess.”
CVU pulled Kindestin prior to Robinson’s second penalty — whistled with 1:27 remaining in the game — but put him back in the net when the hosts went down a man. The Redhawks’ final power play was fruitless, however, as McCarthy’s go-ahead goal — a one-timer from 10 feet in front of the net, assisted by Issa — held up as the game-winner.
McCarthy sized up Woodstock’s change of division following his heroics on Wednesday.
“School size-wise, we probably shouldn’t be in D-I,” McCarthy said. “But we’re sticking right with (opponents). I would rather be playing these hard teams getting better than cruising by D-II. I’m happy with the decision, for sure.”
Robinson seemed to agree with McCarthy, one of his fellow captains along with Issa.
“I was kind of skeptical about what was going to happen this year,” Robinson said. “But it’s been an awesome experience. I think it’s a good experience no matter what (when you’re) playing against the best teams in the state.”
Woodstock — the No. 1 seed in last year’s postseason tournament only to be upset by No. 8 Burr & Burton in the first round — wasn’t the only squad to get a promotion prior to this winter.
“Stowe, Middlebury and U-32 all moved up with us,” Chamberlain said.
Woodstock’s second-year coach appeared visibly relieved following Wednesday’s come-from-behind classic.
“The whole team has had to fight through adversity,” he said. “The record hasn’t been good; we’ve been down in a lot of games, and they just never, ever quit. And tonight it paid off; finally. … Tonight was a groundbreaking point of us becoming a team, and now we have to build on it.”
Woodstock will host Middlebury on Saturday.