This is officially my first hockey-related post on this blog. Why hockey? Well I'm broadcasting the Somersworth/John Stark game this Saturday on WTSN, so I figured it would be a good idea to watch a game beforehand. And since tonight there was a full slate of hockey action, and zero notable hoops games, I figured I would check a game out tonight. I saw Exeter play St. Thomas, and man what a game it was!
Exeter and St. Thomas were each just 2-2 heading into this contest, but if tonight was any indication, they will be two of the better teams in Division I by the end of the year. The Blue Hawks won this game in a thriller, 6-5, in overtime. Zach Kelleher had a career-high four goals including the game winner in OT to lead Exeter to the win. St. Thomas led 5-3 with under four minutes left in regulation. Exeter then scored twice in the next minute and a half to force overtime.
As a graduate of UNH, I've seen my share of Wildcat hockey games. I even broadcasted all of their home games on the radio my senior year. After seeing so much high level college hockey, I tempered my expectations before watching my first high school game of the season. But I have to say that I was impressed by both Exeter and St. Thomas tonight. It was a clean, well played 53 minutes of hockey. There was solid puck handling, clean line changes, solid goal-tending, good checking on both sides, timely goals and not too many penalties. This game had it all.
The first period only had one goal, and it had three total penalties. But it was still a solid, well played period of high school hockey. The lone goal in the period came off the stick of the Saint's Ian Rodden about halfway through the period on the power play. Shortly thereafter Rodden nearly put St. Thomas up 2-0. Rodden had a shorthanded breakaway and put a good shot on net. It was a nice scoring chance, but an even better save by Exeter net-minder Nolan Daley.
There was only one goal in the first period, but there were five scored in the second. Three for Exeter, two for St. Thomas. The Saints made it a 2-0 game as Tommy Williams scored a short-handed goal just a minute and a half into the period. Then Exeter came alive, scoring three goals in just four minutes. Kelleher scored the first two goals to tie the game up at two, and then the third goal came from Dakota Evans to put the Blue Hawks ahead, 3-2. Just a minute later, St. Thomas tied it up at three as Dan St. Pierre found the back of the net. So it was tied at three after two periods. The second period was a good, high scoring period of hockey with both squads really getting after it.
Four more goals came in the third period, two for each team. There were also zero penalties in the third period, which means it was good, clean hockey. St. Thomas regained the lead just 14 seconds into the third as Brendan Sullivan scored to make it 4-3. With 11:03 to play in regulation, Andrew Fairbairn gave the Saints their second two goal lead of the game and it was 5-3. That's how the scoreboard would remain for the next eight minutes. Then there was now under four minutes left and St. Thomas still had a two goal lead. It seemed like they had the game won. But you have to give Exeter credit, they didn't give up. Exeter's Derek Fernholz scored with 3:14 left to cut the lead to just one. Then just a minute later Kelleher scored the equalizer that knotted the game up at five with just 2:12 left in the third period. It was Kelleher's first career hat trick. It was a great shot too, he came down on a breakaway, and slapped it in from the right circle past St. Thomas goaltender Adam Houle. What a game. It had to be disappointing though for St. Thomas. You have a two goal lead with just 3:14 left in the game and then lose it.
"It was the little things that hurt us" remarked St. Thomas Head Coach Chris Plummer. "Guys were trying too hard there at the end."
But the Saints could still salvage the win with a score in overtime. As the overtime period played out, all I kept thinking to myself was how it had been such an excellent game, it would be a shame if it ended in a tie. After five minutes went by in the eight minute OT and still neither side had scored, this seemed like a very real possibility. But finally Exeter crashed the net, peppering Houle with shot attempts. At first they couldn't break though, as Houle made some brilliant saves for St. Thomas. But Exeter's offensive onslaught was just too much for him, and Kelleher scored the game winner with 2:55 left in overtime to give the Blue Hawks the win.
Kelleher, a senior, finishes with a career-high four goals. He was also an all-state football player for Exeter, excelling as both a running back on offense and and a defensive back on defense. "I'm not sure where I'm going to school next year" Kelleher explained after the game. I have some schools recruiting me for football. But I probably won't play sports in college, I'll focus on academics instead." Sounds like he has his priorities in order.
Exeter wins it 6-5 in OT. They out-shot St. Thomas tonight 28-25. Blue Hawk goalie Nolan Daley made 23 saves, while Adam Houle stopped 19 shot attempts for the Saints. Both net-minders had solid games, even though it was a high scoring affair.
It was an excellent high school hockey game. There was also a very good crowd. Hundreds of fans packed Dover Ice Arena for this one. I've seen a ton of football and basketball since the start of the 2009-2010 school year, but this was my first taste of high school hockey. And I was very impressed with what I saw.