ST. ALBANS–A magical run by the North Country boys hockey team came to an end in dramatic fashion Wednesday as they boys fell to the BFA Bobwhites 3-2 in double overtime.
"They gave everything they had," coach Andrew Roy said after the game, "They did not back down when they were down going into the third period, and we never gave up. It was an unfortunate bounce at the end, but that is the game we play."
"It was everything that you could have asked for," said Captain Ebin Fournier, "Everyone tried out there, good contact, strong passes, everyone was skating, and it just didn't go our way tonight."
While the boys did not win the game, they certainly won over a lot of fans with their revamped style of play in the post-season.
All season long they were marred by penalties, mental mistakes, and an overall poor temperament, but when the regular season ended, it was as if the light went on above the player’s heads and they got it. They figured out what it took to be a competitive team in the Metro Division, and every player on the Falcons roster should hold their head high and have a feeling of satisfaction with what they accomplished in the 2012 play-offs.
"I think more than anything, the guys came together at the most important time of the season, the play-offs, and that showed a lot of heart," said Roy on his teams maturation.
Heading into the game, I was filled with mixed feelings.
I will admit it, I have nothing to hide, and am proud of who I am.
I am BFA St. Albans graduate, class of 1996.
The goal of most youngsters who play hockey in St. Albans is to don the green and gold and play for the most storied high school hockey team in the state.
I was lucky enough to be part of that rich tradition for two years, playing under coach Ducolon and his staff from 1994-1996. It was from these guys that I learned a great deal of how to play hockey, and I had my greatest personal success, making the New England hockey all-star tournament my junior year.
At BFA I also had my greatest lows in the game of hockey, losing back-to-back state championships, the first to Rice, the second in overtime to Spaulding.
So, you can understand that as I walked into my old stomping grounds, there were still feelings lingering of the hours I spent in that very arena, honing my skills, and playing for the team that I had rooted for since I was wee little mite.
After finding a spot to watch the game in the jam packed Collins-Perley Sports Complex, I was besieged with questions.
Who was I, where are you from, who do you work for.
I answered these questions, explaining my position to a less then welcoming reception. Only after I shared with them the common thread of Bobwhite loyalty was I accepted.
Then they all asked; Who are you rooting for?
At the time I honestly didn't know.
After the opening introductions and the anthem, my new acquaintances and I settled in for, what everyone agreed, was surely going to be a nail biter.
As play got underway in the first, both teams looked to be feeling each other out. Due to where I was standing I had watched BFA's warm-up and they did not look sharp, and I figured that North Country's best bet was to get some pucks on net early and see what happened.
Goaltending was Bobwhites' Achilles heel all season long, and with the firepower that North Country packs in their arsenal, getting some pucks past goalie Andre Morin would be beneficial.
After the initial feeling out process, the Falcons were playing the hockey that I had grown up with. Smart passes, a good breakout, and getting pucks deep into their opponents end.
Their tenacity paid off nine minutes and fourteen seconds into the period when Ryan Paul snapped a low shot past Morin for a 1-0 Falcon lead.
One minute later, BFA's Aaron Picard had a great chance to tie things up, but Chris Bronson, as he has been all post-season, was johnny on the spot, and turned the shot away.
North Country held on to the lead as the period came to a close, and after one it 1-0 Falcons.
Said Roy of the first, "It was a cool, collected period, a nice flowing first fifteen minutes."
The Academy came out with a much better effort in the second, and thirty-seven seconds into the period Matt Palmer took George Salg's rebound and buried it to even the game up at one.
Four minutes later, with North Country down a man, Bobwhite captain Mike Schreiner, who was playing with what the fans called severe flu-like-symptoms, blasted one in, giving the home team its’ first lead of the contest.
In the second it was BFA's turn to steal something from North Country's play-book, as they were much more physical than in the first, and it seemed to surprise North Country, a team used to being the aggressor.
It was 2-1 BFA as the third period got underway, but after watching the the quarter-final game against South Burlington, Falcon fans knew that their boys were still very much in the game.
2:40 into the third, BFA's Peter Dukas took a penalty, putting the Falcons on the power-play.
North Country worked the puck around the Bobwhite zone, and with time running out on the man advantage, Nate Stewart deflect a Logan Fournier point shot on net where it trickled oh so slowly across the line, evening the game at one.
North Country now had the edge, and BFA were the ones trying to keep pace with energized Falcons.
Salg was called for boarding with 7:27 left to play, and Ross DeLaBruere nearly put North Country ahead when he emerged from behind the net and shot one at Morin.
The puck beat the goalie, sliding across the crease so agonizingly close to the goal line that it might make you queasy, but it went past the cage and out of harms way.
That would be the best chance either team had to avoid overtime, but it was not to be, and for the second time in as many games, there would be bonus hockey to play for the Falcons.
With eight minutes on the clock it was going to be interesting to see if the fans were in for a little NCU OT magic.
On a side note, why in the world do they play an eight minute overtime, clean the ice, and then play fifteen. Why not just do the ice and then play fifteen like they have in the past? I must find out the reasoning behind this.
Early in the extra session it looked like there was going to be some Bobwhite magic as BFA came in on a three-on-one, but Dukas fired the puck wide-left.
After the Dukas chance, the two teams traded rushes up and down the ice. Three on two's, two on two's three on three's, back and forth they went.
With less than two minutes to play, Travis Tetreault had a glorious chance to end the game, but his shot went just wide.
With no winner after eight minutes, the two team's headed off the ice, and I, having earned a level of trust that guaranteed that my spot would not be taken by some BFA fan, headed to the bathroom.
Feeling refreshed, I returned to see that my place had indeed been saved and I settled in for OT number two.
Just like on Saturday, it was over quickly.
Just 1:06 in, Palmer, skating down the left side of the ice, threw a centering pass towards the front of the net where it bounced off of Bronson and into the net, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
"They way we battled back in the third, they way we took it to double-overtime, it ways a lot about the character these kids have," said Roy.
As we say good-by to the 2011-2012 season, I would like to say that there is a great group of seniors that are leaving the Falcons that will be sorely missed.
Nate Stewart, Dylan Columbia, Ebin Fournier, Logan Judd, Josh Bernier, Nathan Corrow, and Cody Simoneau are all moving on, and two of these seven talked about the season that was.
"We played great as a team," said Judd, "We played our hearts out, and this was the best team I've played with in my entire life."
Said the captain, "It is hard to say good-by to these guys, all the seniors absolutely love this team, and this was pretty much all you could ask for. We were all kind of one big person, just an amazing team, all four years, it was great to play with them."
"I will always have a special place for this group of seniors in my heart," Roy said of the class of 2012, "This is a tremendous group of kids, they're smart, talented, hard working, and I couldn't have asked for a better group than the one I had here."
As I left Fournier and the rest of the guys to collect themselves, I thought about the question I was asked repeatedly, 'Who are you rooting for?'
I can honestly say that I was rooting for North Country.