History is in the books at Brattleboro Union High School.
The Brattleboro boys' varsity hockey team won their first-ever hockey championship on March 24 at the Barre City B.O.R. Arena, defeating the Division II defending champs Harwood, 5-3.
It was a sweet victory after the Colonels lost to the Highlanders in the regular season, 6-4. But this time they were victorious in the game that counted the most - a game that had many improbable twists and turns.
Harwood took a huge blow before the opening face-off. Skylar Platt, their co-captain and star forward, was a scratch after an emergency appendectomy on the day before the championship. Despite Platt's absence, the Highlanders got off to a great start.
At 2:09 in the first period, Brattleboro's Jack Pattison and Will Miskovich collided while trying to clear the puck. Senior forward Finn O'Hara pounced on the loose puck, skated around Brattleboro defenseman Ryan Gerard, and fired a shot into the left corner past Colonels goaltender Darek Harvey to give Harwood a 1-0 lead.
Later in the period, the Colonels made another costly turnover, but instead of a goal, it ultimately cost them a goaltender. Once again, O'Hara was in the thick of it. He stole the puck, skated past defenseman Miskovich, and then collided with Harvey after his shot. Harvey made the save, but he went down hard and ended face down on the ice for a couple of minutes. He stayed in the game for the remainder of the period and finished with seven saves.
Although the Harvey-O'Hara collision looked bad at first sight, Colonels coach Eric Libardoni said no harm was done. “O Hara went to the net hard, it was not a dirty play,” he said.
As the first period was winding down, Brattleboro's Will Taggard grabbed the puck in the Harwood zone. Taggard went up the left wing, passed it to Pattison, but was broken up by Harwood defenseman Tyson Sylvia. Highlanders' goalie Liam Guyette (26 saves) made the save, but Pattison picked up the rebound and scored at 13:36 to tie the game. Taggard was awarded the assist.
But the Colonels had a major crisis unfolding. After a once-over by the medical staff during the first intermission, Harvey was removed from the game due to a suspected concussion.
“Harvey originally said he was OK, but between periods, he was clearly messed up,” said Libardoni.
Harvey got the start because first-string goalie Austin Wood was not eligible to play in the championship. Libardoni had to turn to a 10th-grader, Matthew Gordon-Macey, who had played a total of four minutes over the course of the season in mop-up duty. Now, he was thrust into the title game.
Gordon-Macey answered the call and made 20 saves over the next two periods in as clutch a performance as you'll ever see in a high school game.
“I was very impressed,” Libardoni said. “For Matt to be ready and go in a moment like that was amazing.”
Gordon-Macey's teammates put him into a position to succeed with a go-ahead goal at the end of the second period. At 11:24, Taggard intercepted a Harwood pass in the neutral zone and scored an unassisted goal to make to give the Colonels a 2-1 lead.
The momentum was definitely shifting, and the Colonels came out blazing in the final period. Taggard went on to score again, just 23 seconds into the third period, to make it 3-1. Pattison then scored his second goal of the game at 2:13, with an assist from Sam Hall.
The champs were staggering, but Harwood fought back. O'Hara intercepted the puck on a Brett Parsons' pass and scored at 3:26. His brother, Derek Parsons, was called for hooking at 10:08, and gave Harwood a power play. Sylvia hit a slap-shot off Gordon-Macey and Jacob Green scored on a rebound to cut the Colonels' lead down to 4-3.
Now, the Colonels were on the ropes as Harwood went on another power play. But Brattleboro killed off the penalty, and senior Gavin Howard and Pattison snapped off some good shots at Guyette in the final minutes.
With a minute to play, Harwood yanked Guyette out of goal to add another attacker. It didn't work. Brattleboro got the game final goal when Pattison won a face-off and passed the puck to Howard, who scored an empty-netter from 60 feet away with 0.4 seconds to play. The clock then ticked off the last four-tenths of a second, the horn sounded, and the Colonels celebrated at mid-ice.
Hang another banner in the BUHS Gymnasium.
“I thought about this moment every time I went to practice,” said a jubilant Howard after the game. “This is the game I wanted to get to and wanted to win all along. Every second was worth it.”
Pattison knew from the beginning they had a special team this season.
“After all the COVID that was going on, our season kept getting delayed, but we stayed excited and we made the most of it,” he said.
While Brattleboro got through it all unscathed, there was no shortage of drama leading up to the championship game on the Harwood side.
Harwood school administrators dismissed their head coach Jacob Grout for allegedly abusing his players on electronic media. Assistant coach Shawn Thompson took over the team.
But then on March 21, three days before the boys' Division II hockey championship, Thompson was arrested in Duxbury for driving under the influence - second offense. Even after the arrest, Thompson was allowed to coach in the championship.
After all that, it was Brattleboro that, on March 27, got the traditional Main Street procession that goes with winning a state title.
“It wasn't easy,” Libardoni said. “I'm really just proud of them for working through the whole year. This is a hard year to be a teenager. They stuck with it and they were here everyday.”
Libardoni and O'Hara both received honors for their respective performances this season. Libardoni was named Division II Coach of the Year while O'Hara earned Division II Player of the Year honors.
Jack Pattison was named to the Division II first team, while Ryan Gerard and Gavin Howard made the second team, Will Taggard and Austin Wood earned third team honors, and Mason Foard earned honorable mention.