When he took over as the head coach of the Londonderry High School varsity hockey team a handful of years ago, Peter Bedford’s major intentions included establishing a culture of winning and consistency within the program. And, of course, snagging a state championship or two was expected to be a natural byproduct of the Lancers’ steady improvement and consistency.
Well, Bedford’s Londonderry High bunch has become a consistent power in Division I during the coach’s tenure, and the Lancers hit the heights of their development this past weekend by making it into the state championship game for the first time in program history. But winning a state title will have to remain a goal for Bedford and his boys after they suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the fourth-seeded Manchester Central Little Green in the D-I championship contest at Manchester’s Verizon Arena Saturday, March 15.
Central busted a 1-1 tie in the third period by potting what proved to be the game-winning goal with 5:44 remaining, followed by an open-net tally for a bit of insurance in collecting its school’s first state hockey title since 1981. That was more than a decade before there even was a Londonderry High School ice hockey program.
“Quite frankly, I think we made more mistakes than they did today, and I think that made the difference,” said Bedford. (Central) has a bit of experience being in this situation and they had a better idea of what to expect and what it felt like to be here, and they made less mistakes overall than we did.”
Central lost to Manchester Memorial in last year’s D-I title contest, but returned this winter and bagged the big prize despite third-ranked Londonderry’s efforts. It was the hot Little Green contingent’s eighth consecutive victory.
The first period was intense and played at a brisk pace, with the teams taking turns making rushes up the ice toward an offensive foray. But the Lancers ended up being the stronger of the squads during what proved to be a scoreless opening stanza, zinging 13 shots on Central senior goalie Ian Beliveau. The Queen City team put seven shots on LHS keeper Joe McGrath.
Central netted the first goal of the game just 2:29 into period two, but Londonderry got the equalizer with 4:14 left in the stanza when senior forward Jason Parker thumped a slap shot between Beliveau’s blocker and right leg and into the netting.
The Lancers were penalized twice during the final 1:05 of the second period, giving Central a one-man advantage for a little less than 30 seconds and then a 5-on-3 advantage for the final 27.3 seconds of the period.
The Little Green didn’t do a whole lot with those advantages, but they did still have time left on their man-advantages as the third period began with the score still knotted up at 1-1.
Londonderry’s penalty-killing unit did great work of keeping Central from making much hay with their man-up time, and when it was over the score still sat at 1-1.
The Lancers then went on offense, and talented team captain Eric Coburn very nearly netted the go-ahead goal with 7:20 to go when he lined up a wrist shot from above the face-off circle to the right of the Central net and clanged a blistering blast off of the crossbar behind goalie Beliveau.
Less than two minutes later Central slid into celebration mode when senior defenseman Ross Lougee lofted a shot into the LHS net to make it a 2-1 game.
Bedford’s bunch worked to snare the tying goal but that never happened, and Central made it a 3-1 game by burying an open-netter with just 29.1 seconds showing on the game clock.
Londonderry reached the title contest by defeating the rival Pinkerton Academy Astros in a lopsided, 5-1 decision in D-I semifinal-round tourney play in another part of Manchester two days earlier.
First-year coach Joey Lee’s Pinkerton squad had an exceptional run over the last several months of the Division I season, posting a 7-2-1 record in its last 10 contests.
But the Astros’ championship hopes withered on the vine due to the loss to Londonderry at Manchester’s JFK Coliseum on Thursday, March 13.
The seventh-ranked Astros and the Lancers had faced off twice during the regular season, with each side collecting a victory. But the Lancers dominated the semifinal-round meeting, leading 1-0 after one stanza and 4-1 at the conclusion of two.
The contest started with the two teams rushing back and forth the JFK ice. But the host Lancers potted the lone goal of those opening 15 minutes when, with 9:45 remaining and a delayed penalty about to be called on PA, LHS senior forward Frank Wynters rapped home a rebound to Pinkerton junior goalie Brendan Murphy’s left.
Londonderry had several other scoring chances during the remainder of the stanza, but PA keeper Murphy (26 total stops) stood up tall and denied them.
The Lancers finished with a modest advantage where shots on net were concerned (11-7) and the 1-0 lead at the close of the first.
But the Lancers’ lead would grow to 4-0, thanks to consecutive goals from Wynters, junior defenseman Lucas Poulin, and senior forward Coburn during the first nine minutes of the second stanza.
Pinkerton took a small but definite step toward a comeback with 3:08 left in the second when sophomore forward Tyler Poole banged home a rebound, with Ryan Christie and John Hamilton garnering the assists. Londonderry ended up leading 15-12 where shots on net were concerned in the period, and 4-1 on the scoreboard when the buzzer buzzed ending the second.
Action had begun to get plenty chippy during the second period, and continued to be so in the third with a bunch of penalties being called.
The Lancers closed out the scoring with Coburn’s second goal of the contest – on a power-play – a little less than three minutes into the third stanza. And 5-1 was where the final score landed, with LHS goalie McGrath contributing 26 saves to his contingent’s successful effort.