March 17, 2011By Mal Boright Observer correspondent
When the final buzzer sounded Tuesday night on the Champlain Valley Union boys hockey’s tense and thrilling 1-0 victory over top-seeded Essex in the Division I championship game at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Field House, the red shirted winners all bolted to the left of the cage and mobbed their goalie, junior Jason O’Brien.
The massive pile-on, which included all team members and accompanied by roars of approval from the huge turnout of Redhawk supporters, was a testament to the heroics the big netminder put forth all night with his quick mitt and heft.
In racking up his second shutout in three playoff games, O’Brien stopped 29 Essex shots with his glove, pads, skates and dervish-like moves with his body.
In one nerve-roiling time midway through the second period, after the lone penalty call of the contest sent a CVU man off for two minutes on a tripping call, O’Brien came up with six stops in the frantic two minutes of shorthanded defense against a dogged Essex power play, aided by the screaming Redhawk boosters at the his side.
“That really helped, hearing the cheering that was going on,” the goalie said after the game.
He also gave credit to his defense (led by veterans Erick MacLean, Wilson Yandell and others) for “having my back all night.”
The lone goal did not come until there were just six minutes left in the final period, led up to by an unusual circumstance.
Senior Kyle Logan, who has been a pass master extraordinaire during his CVU career, controlled the puck in front of O’Brien as Essex was apparently making a line change. He spotted Robbie Dobrowski alone at the other end of the rink and fired a long pass to him.
Dobrowski, in the Essex end, made a quick turn from an approaching Hornet defender and launched a bullet shot into the high-right corner of the net past a surprised goalie Pat Campbell.
“That was a dream come true,” said Dobrowski of the winning score and his first in the three playoff victories. It was his 37th of the season and 94th of his career.
“I didn’t know what he was doing up there,” said Logan of Dobrowski. “But he had broken out, I got the puck to him and he did his thing.”
The big and noisy crowd of supporters also charged Logan up.
“It’s just crazy, playing in front of a crowd like that,” he said, wide-eyed and grinning.
Logan credited Essex with being “a great team,” but also noted, with a nod to O’Brien, “we have the best goalie in the state.”
Head coach Mike Murray was low-key outside the tumultuous CVU locker room after the game, and talked about a late season renewed emphasis on defense that helped bring the Redhawks back to early season triumphant ways that produced nine straight wins to open the campaign.
“We were getting a lot of goals but losing our focus on the defensive side,” said Murray, who made some line changes to “get better scoring balance.”
He added: “The guys bought into it. Our goals per game went down but we won.”
The Hawks won their last four games to finish 18-4-1.
The previous playoff wins were 1-0 over South Burlington and 3-1 against BFA-St. Albans last Wednesday night at the Gut, a game in which O’Brien had 31 saves in another scintillating performance between the pipes.
Derek Goodwin, Jeffrey Thompson and Ethan Childs, his career first, had the CVU goals. Childs clinched the decision in another cliffhanger with 6:33 left in regulation by tipping in a rocket from MacLean at the point.
• Wednesday night’s crowd for the final was pegged at 3,904. Supporters for both sides were noisy and had the joint jumping and rocking.
• Veteran Essex coach Bill O’Neil had high praise for O’Brien’s work in keeping Essex off the scoreboard.
• It was the second time in three seasons that CVU has bumped off the Hornets in the title match. The two teams met once this regular season and skated to a 1-1 deadlock.
• Kyle Peckham, Steve Jurkiewicz, Ben Adams and Lucas Martin were the Essex sharpshooters who were the most troublesome for the CVU defense.
• CVU had just 14 shots at Campbell, four of those from Dobrowski’s stick. The Redhawks had just two shots on goal in the final 15 minutes, but nailed 50 per cent.