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Two for the Price of One: Dual-Goalie System Leads Hartford in D-II Opener

  • Hartford senior Josh Harrington smacks the puck down the rink against Peoples Academy yesterday in White River Junction. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Hartford senior Josh Harrington smacks the puck down the rink against Peoples Academy yesterday in White River Junction. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Goalie Mak Lyford, foreground, listens to head coach Todd Bebeau between periods yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Goalie Mak Lyford, foreground, listens to head coach Todd Bebeau between periods yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford’s Cam Lemieux, left, smacks the puck past Peoples’ Holden Southhall yesterday in White River Junction. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Hartford’s Cam Lemieux, left, smacks the puck past Peoples’ Holden Southhall yesterday in White River Junction. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford senior Josh Harrington smacks the puck down the rink against Peoples Academy yesterday in White River Junction. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Goalie Mak Lyford, foreground, listens to head coach Todd Bebeau between periods yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Hartford’s Cam Lemieux, left, smacks the puck past Peoples’ Holden Southhall yesterday in White River Junction. (Valley News - Libby March)

White River Junction — After jumping out to a four-goal lead in yesterday’s 7-3 Vermont Division II first-round playoff win over Peoples Academy, the Hartford High boys hockey team allowed two power-play goals on five penalties in the second period to let the Wolves’ cut the lead in half.

While Hartford coach Todd Bebeau cited a lack of discipline in allowing the Wolves back in it, at least two players on Hartford’s roster never lost focus.

That would be goalies Mak Lyford and Teighan Meeker, who substituted for one another on a rotational basis with each and every whistle, combining for 12 saves in Hartford’s win.

Making their first playoff appearance in three years, the No. 6 Hurricanes (12-8) move on to Tuesday’s quarterfinals at third-ranked Burr & Burton Academy (15-3-1). Peoples (No. 11; 3-18) lost to the Canes for the third time this year.

Hartford’s flip-flopping goalies made for a unique — if somewhat comical — dynamic. With switches after even the most minor game-stopping instances, there were occasions when one would take the crease, only to be skating back to the bench less than 10 seconds later.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done it and I figured with it being our first playoff game in awhile, why not?” Bebeau said. “It’s unorthodox, and some people think I’m crazy for it. I think I’m crazy sometimes, too.”

The situation arose due to a lack of consistent dominance by either goalie this season. Lyford, a junior, started during last year’s 6-14 campaign. Meeker, a freshman, earned the nod for the majority of the Hurricanes’ contests during the beginning of this year.

With Hartford playing some of its best hockey during the last month, Bebeau selected his starter on a game-by-game basis, based on whichever netminder had been standing out most during recent play. On a few occasions, Lyford and Meeker split time, with one manning the crease for the first half of the contest before relenting to the other.

Bebeau hoped yesterday’s whistle-to-whistle test helped simplify things while building solidarity for the goalies.

“It helps make it simpler because you’re not worried about facing every shot,” the coach said. “You might be out there for three seconds; you might be out there for 45 seconds. But you know you only have to think about facing a few shots at a time. It helps keep them focused, because whether they’re on the ice or on the bench, they’ve got to be alert and supporting each other.”

Hartford’s offense had no shortage of help on the other end, as 11 assists accompanied its seven goals. Junior and scoring leader Jeff Lyford tied a career high with three assists to complement his early-second-period goal that gave the Canes a 4-0 lead.

Brandon Gardner and Nathan Lemieux had two assists apiece while John Borchert, Jeremy McGlone, Riley Horan and Nick Terino all had one helper. McGlone and junior Andrew Atkinson scored two goals each and Gardner and Borchert once as the Canes spread things around.

“We had a lot of unselfish play today and played with a lot of energy,” Bebeau said. “We had some mental mistakes in the second period, but we recovered.”

The Canes came out of the gate swinging, registering two goals in the first 2:01 of game time. Lemieux fed Gardner from the left circle for a back-hander past Wolves goalie Lukas Caldwell (27 saves) 1:28 in before a wrist shot in the slot by Atkinson on a pass from Jeff Lyford made it 2-0 at 2:01.

Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play in the period, with Hartford dominating with a 13-4 shot advantage overall. The Canes went up 3-0 at the end of the stanza, with Lyford setting up Borchert’s slapshot blast from the left faceoff circle 7.9 seconds before intermission.

Lyford’s left-side goal on a crossing feed from Gardner made it 4-0 2:25 into the second, but things got sloppy from there for Hartford. The Canes were penalized five times over the next 10 minutes, including roughing, unsportsmanlike conduct and too many men on the ice infractions.

The Wolves scored twice on the power play, with freshman defender Garrett Abair netting one on a deflection past Lyford on a 5-on-3 and Elliot Caldwell scoring on a 5-on-4 rebound against Meeker to make it 4-2, 3:05 before the second intermission.

“Not what we wanted right there; way too many penalties, especially for a playoff game,” said Jeff Lyford. “But we went in the locker room and talked and got it back together.”

The Canes tallied their own rebound score on an Atkinson tap-in following an initial Caldwell chest save against Lyford, and Gardner set up McGlone for a short-handed score with 6:14 left to make it 6-2 with 6:14 to play.

Peoples’ Jaden Perry made it a three-goal game less than a minute later with a power-play slapper past Mak Lyford, but McGlone put it away with his second strike on a pass from Gardner behind the net.

Ice Chips: The Wolves finished 3-for-8 on the power play; Hartford was 0-for-5. ... The Canes held a 34-15 advantage in shots on goal. ... Jeff Lyford now has 40 points this winter, becoming the program’s first single-season 40-point scorer since Cody Vose and Sumner Becker both reached 40 during the 2009-10 season. ... Hartford is 1-1 against Burr & Burton this season, handing the Bulldogs their most recent loss in a 2-1 Hartford win Dec. 28 in the first round of the Rutland holiday tournament. BBA avenged the defeat Jan. 22 in White River Junction with a 2-0 win over the Canes.

Jared Pemdak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.