Bears’ hunt for championship repeat ends

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2023 8:00 PM

CONCORD — The Hanover High girls hockey team’s bid for back-to-back NHIAA Division I state titles expired Tuesday at Everett Arena with a 5-3 loss to Oyster River-Portsmouth.

The third-seeded Bears fell into a three-goal hole after two periods and couldn’t escape despite scoring the semifinal contest’s last two goals.

Hanover (14-4-2) played shorthanded, with top defenseman Kali McDonnell visibly weakened by illness and standout forward Rory Seelig battling a back injury that sidelined her much of the season.

“We’re not going to use that as an excuse,” said Hanover coach John Dodds, whose team scored the first goal but entered the second period tied, 1-1. “We’ve been dealing with sickness and injuries, concussions, all year long, and we’ve gotten used to it.

“This is one of the few games this season where we had everybody.”

The Bears opened the scoring four minutes before the first intermission. An ORP defender coughed the puck up into the slot, followed by Maeve Lee’s low shot off the right post. Maggie Feng popped home the rebound.

The Clipper Cats needed fewer than two minutes to forge a tie. Seelig turned the puck over at the right point in her defensive zone and Oyster River-Portsmouth played the biscuit into the corner, eventually working it back out front for a short-range strike by Kelly Zhang.

ORP went up, 2-1, five minutes into the second period, Hanover goaltender Eleanor Edson surrendering a plump rebound that Katheryn Deans put away at the right post. The Clipper Cats moved ahead, 3-1, a minute later. Eliza Farwell shook off a Seelig check at the right point, skated through the circle and shot high into the net’s near side.

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“If I could go back and replay it, I’d probably call a timeout after their third goal, just to try and settle us down,” said Dodds, whose team twice beat ORP during the regular season. “That’s one of those things you scratch your head about after.”

The score moved to 4-1 four minutes before the second intermission, ORP’s Kira Jakobs firing a pass off the right sideboards to Zhang, who struck for her second tally.

“We rarely give up back-to-back goals, let alone three in a row,” Dodds said. “Their speed picked up, and we slowed down and tightened up a little bit.

“We could’ve folded up and gone home with an 8-1 loss, but the girls made up their minds they were going to play.”

Lee began her team’s comeback by skating right to left across the slot and firing a shot into the upper left corner five minutes into the third period. Rachel Rockmore ripped a shot over goaltender Amelie Cowieson’s glove with six minutes remaining, but Maggie Farwell’s shot into an empty net with four seconds on the clock ended the scoring.

Hanover played the season with only 14 players, its smallest roster in memory. Dodds has skillfully utilized a third line in the past, but he didn’t have one at his disposal this winter. Even practices are hard to conduct with such numbers.

“It gets a little worse next season, because we lose two players and have only one coming in,” said Dodds, who will lose McDonnell and Mackenzie Liu to graduation. “After that, we hope to have a few more.”

Oyster River-Portsmouth (16-3-1) advanced to play top-seeded Bishop Guertin (15-2-3), which routed Bishop Brady-Trinity-Londonderry (14-5) during Tuesday’s other semifinal, 8-1.

The final is scheduled for Saturday at SNHU Arena in Manchester.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

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