By Mal Boright
Give this young—four seniors—Champlain Valley Union High boys hockey team a test for a third time, and it will respond in a big way. A very big way.
After losing (2-1) and knotting (1-1) second-seeded Essex High during the regular season, the Redhawks, in front of a standing room only crowd of 1,100-plus Saturday, rubbed out the Hornets 3-0 at their packed nest in Essex to gain Wednesday’s championship against top-seeded 20-2 South Burlington High at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Field House. The Wednesday night championship was after the Observer’s press deadline.
And it was the third test against the Rebels. The Redhawks blew past them 5-2 in December, but then got blanked 3-0 in the annual CSB Cup contest at Cairns Arena two weeks ago.
Wednesday was South Burlington’s first appearance in the Division 1 championship since 1997, while CVU was trying for a second Big Trophy in the past three years.
“Yes, we are young,” said head coach Mike Murray after the victory at Essex. He did not have to add that on this day youth was served. Essex had 11 seniors on its roster.
“It feels good,” added defenseman and captain Alex Bulla, as the joyful Redhawks left the ice.
Held to but two goals in the previous two outings against the defensively astute Essex club, CVU broke out for two goals in the closing three minutes and eight seconds of the initial period and then made them stand up before adding another score midway through the final reel.
Senior Kirk Fontana launched the first goal with 3:08 showing on the clock and Hoyt McCuin in front of Essex goalie Brock Paquette in the event of a rebound. Defenseman Drew Pitcher, a freshman, contributed the set-up pass.
Less than two minutes later, the Redhawks swooped in on Paquette using short and quick passes, with freshman Ryan Keelan finishing off the play with an assist from brother senior Pat Keelan.
Junior Brendan Gannon, another CVU swiftie, collected the final tally at 7:26 in the closing segment, after taking a McCuin pass and rushing in on Paquette with a hard, rising shot.
Defensively, the Redhawks generally kept the Hornets from any sustained offensive activity in front of strong junior goalie Greg Talbert, who made 19 stops and neatly covered up most potential rebound opportunities.
Paquette had 21 saves for Essex.
“We played a good defensive game,” said Murray, adding that the Hawks’ speed was significant.
The Redhawks’ penalty killers were called on twice, once in the second period and again in the third. Led by Bulla, Pitcher, Kaleb Godbout and others, they kept Essex from any serious forays in front of Talbert.