Playoffs Begin at 40: Canes Make Push for a Postseason Return
Hartford’s John Borchert (left) takes the puck past Woodstock’s Braden McCarthy (17) and Connor McCarthy (23) during the third period last night in White River Junction. (Rob Strong photograph)
Hartford captain Brandon Gardner (left) squares off against Woodstock’s Nick Donaldson. (Rob Strong photograph)
Woodstock’s Connor Joyce, top, and Hunter Schmell pursue Hartford’s Jeffrey Lyford last night in White River Junction. (Rob Strong photograph)
White River Junction — To Todd Bebeau, relevance means making the playoffs, at an absolute minimum. That’s not a difficult task to accomplish in the almost-all-comers Vermont Principals Association postseason.
Except at Hartford, where Bebeau — the Hurricanes’ 15th-year boys hockey coach — still adheres to the VPA’s long-dead rule requiring any team to win 40 percent of its games to qualify. A former Hurricane himself, Bebeau won’t submit a tournament application without a .400 winning percentage, and he hasn’t had to the last two winters.
At their current rate of success, however, the Hurricanes may require Bebeau to flick his Bic soon. Sluggish through two periods last night, Hartford exploded for four third-stanza goals for a 5-2 come-from-behind win over Woodstock at Wendell Barwood Arena.
Now 4-2-0, the Canes will keep their boss happy so long as they skate full games as they did in the final period against the short-on-the-bench Wasps (2-5-0).
“I feel very good about the third period; we were a totally different team,” Bebeau said. “We were outplayed tremendously in the first two periods. We didn’t play with any passion. We lost a tremendous amount of one-on-one battles.
“But the kids showed a lot of character in the third period. We were a totally different hockey team in that third period. ... I give the kids a lot of credit. They didn’t let this one slip away.”
Jeffrey Lyford scored Hartford’s last two goals to put the game away, and teammates Brandon Gardner and John Borchert both enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights. But it was junior Nick Terino’s play, capped by the game-winning goal, that encapsulated what the Hurricanes can be.
Borchert started the sequence, beating a Woodstock defender on the left wing and centering toward Jeremy McGlone in the slot. Wasps goaltender Brady Stewart (21 saves) poke-checked the pass away, but Terino — hustling into the zone behind the play — slammed the loose puck into the open right side of the net at 6:15 for a 3-2 lead.
Lyford followed with two goals in a 74-second span to send Woodstock to another frustrating defeat. The Wasps have just 12 players on this year’s roster; sophomore Haven Lantz missed last night’s game with an illness, and sophomore Connor McCarthy sat out a healthy chunk of the middle period with a 10-minute misconduct for hitting from behind.
“We can’t be in the penalty box,” Woodstock coach Charlie Hancock said. “When we were in the box there, we had only three guys on the bench. What happens is it starts to wear you down in the third period.”
Still, Woodstock has enough talent and pop to give most anyone fits. Combined with a lackluster opponent, the Wasps had the ingredients in place for an upset.
Borchert got the scoring going with less than five minutes to go in the first period, only to be answered in similarly unassisted fashion by Woodstock defenseman Nick Donaldson 54 seconds later. The Wasps rode out potential disaster with McCarthy’s misconduct, easily killing an associated minor penalty early in the second.
Hartford gifted the visitors a tie-busting goal with 3:46 left in the middle period. After a ragged stop from freshmen netminder Teighan Meeker (15 saves) on a shot from the right dot, Hurricane defenseman Nathan Lemieux tried to steer the rebound under the goalie rather than clear the puck to the corner. Woodstock’s Brian Townley pounced, jamming the biscuit into the open right side for a 2-1 lead.
Not one prone to long speeches, Bebeau kept his message short at the ensuing intermission: “I just wanted them to figure this one out. I’m not going to go in there and get after them and yell and scream. This was on them. I give them a lot of credit; for whatever they did, they got things turned around for us.”
Inserting Terino into a center’s role after two periods on the bench sparked the rally. So did the aggressive play of Gardner, Lyford and Andrew Atkinson, Hartford’s top line.
Gardner started the comeback at 3:22, slapping home a behind-the-net feed from Atkinson. After Terino’s eventual game-winner, Lyford stuffed a Gardner rebound at 10:20 and steered a Will Gardner slap shot around the prone Stewart at 11:34.
“This was an important win for us,” Bebeau said. “There’s a big difference, in my opinion, between 3-3 and 4-2. Last year, we would have imploded. We would not have done what needed to be done to win this game. It shows we’re moving in the right direction.”
One more step along the road to relevance again.
Ice Chips: Hancock on Woodstock’s final stanza: “That third period was a team stink, basically. There wasn’t any one individual, for sure.” … The Wasps had an apparent goal wiped out at 6:44 of the second. Blueliner Ben Orr blasted a mid-slot drive off the right post, leaving Woodstock celebrating what it thought was a ricochet back off Meeker. The goal-line referee conferred with the goal judge and waved off the score. … Hartford returns to action tomorrow night, hosting Northfield (2-2-1). The Wasps have the weekend off, then host the Marauders at Union Arena on Wednesday.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.