Woodstock Grinds It Out, Reaches D-II Final

  • Woodstock's Riley Shepherd.

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Woodstock — Tuesday’s VPA Division II boys hockey semifinal between Milton and Woodstock was tight, physical and palpably high-stakes. In other words, exactly what Wasp freshman Riley Shepherd prefers.

Shepherd, a defenseman from Pomfret, uncorked a zinging wrist shot from the high slot with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left to give unbeaten, top-ranked Woodstock a 2-1 win over the thorn-in-side Yellowjackets at a packed Union Arena.

Deflecting off at least one Milton player before finding its way past Jacks goalie Jackson Ehler, the strike was Shepherd’s fifth goal in three games — two more than his total from the rest of the season — as the Wasps advanced to next Wednesday’s championship game at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Field House. Woodstock will skate in its first title game since 2000 when it takes on No. 3 Lyndon, a 3-2 winner over No. 7 Northfield in Tuesday’s other semi.

“I think I’ve gotten better as the season has gone on,” Shepherd said. “The intensity has picked up. I like intensity.”

Shepherd, one of numerous freshman contributors for Woodstock (21-0-1), is Wasp coach Jon Chamberlain’s unofficial rookie of the year.

“He’s really been awesome all year; he’s been good for 20 games,” Chamberlain said. “(Today’s winning goal) was the right shot to take at the right time. He knew we needed it.”

Shepherd’s strike came just 3½ minutes after the Wasps surrendered the tying goal on a short-handed breakaway by the Yellowjackets’ Patrick Shannon, who pickpocketed a Wasp at the opposite blue line and deked Woodstock goalie Henry Greene to make it 1-1. It was the second shorty of the postseason for Shannon, a senior co-captain who’d pulled a similar trick in the first round against Burlington.

No. 5 Milton (12-9-1) — the only team to hold Woodstock to a single goal this year, in a 1-0 Wasp win five weeks ago in South Burlington — was on the verge of forcing overtime and being in position for an upset. But Woodstock was relentless.

“We gave up a bad turnover on the power play, and then it was a matter of, ‘How do we respond?’ ” Chamberlain said. “It says a lot about our guys that they continued to play so well after that.”

Being tied late was unfamiliar for Woodstock, which has defeated opponents by an average score of 5-1 and was coming off a 7-0 trouncing of Missisquoi in the quarters.

A big reason is the scoring power of Steven Townley, who left prep school after a year at Williston Northampton to rejoin the Wasps. He scored his 42nd goal of the season on a partial breakaway late in the first period, assisted by fellow senior Cullen McCarthy.

Townley wasn’t overly concerned after Milton rallied to tie it.

“For us, it was just a matter of sticking to our game plan and keep firing pucks at the net,” Townley said. “Riley’s a great player, and he’s the type of defender who’s going to put it on net for you.”

Woodstock tallied a lofty shots advantage in the first period but struggled to generate many quality chances against a Yellowjacket team adept at clogging lanes in the defensive zone. It was also effective in the first meeting, with Townley’s early second-period goal game’s the only scoring.

“Our game plan that night was pretty much the same as it was today, which was to shut down (Townley and McCarthy) and hope to get a bounce to go our way,” first-year Milton coach Bryant Perry said. “We tried to work pucks to the outside to get a few more chances the other way today, but Woodstock’s a very good back-checking team.”

McCarthy nearly made it 2-0 early in the second period with a close-range wrister that bounced off Ehler’s chest and straight down, appearing to land across the goal line. Ehler quickly covered the puck. Woodstock celebrated on the ice, but officials hadn’t seen it cross the line and ordered a faceoff to keep it 1-0.

“It’s one of those things you just can’t do anything about,” Chamberlain said. “It could have been called either way and didn’t go our way. We had to shake it off and keep playing.”

Milton seemed to thrive off the break, subsequently earning more offensive-zone time and challenging Greene with several bids. His most notable save was with his glove against Shannon on the left side at 5:11 of the second.

The Wasps’ chances remained sporadic, though they peppered Ehler with a three-shot flurry early in the third.

Milton defender Owen Perry was called for the game’s lone penalty with 8:20 left in the third and Woodstock had two shots on the power play — including a loud slapper by Townley — before Shannon’s stunning breakaway score.

Ice Chips: Townley leads the Upper Valley with 42 goals and 27 assists. … Woodstock led just 17-14 in shots on goal. ... It was the teams’ first playoff meeting since they played three times in four postseasons from 1979-82, a stretch that included each team winning a semifinal and an 11-0 Milton win in the ’82 quarters. … Chamberlain, 30, was the Wasps’ starting goaltender the last time they reached the semis, a 2-0 loss to Harwood in 2006. Woodstock hasn’t played in a championship game since beating Hartford, 2-1, in the D-III final in 2000. … Woodstock has outscored Lyndon, 12-2, in a pair of wins over the Vikings this season, most recently 5-1 on Valentine’s Day at Union.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.