CONNOR TODD battles a Belmont-Gilford player for possession during action Dec. 22. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
December 27, 2012CONWAY — Prior to the Kennett hockey team's matchup with Belmont-Gilford on Saturday, Dec. 22, Valley Vision television analyst Bob Cyr pointed out that deciding the winner of the game could easily come down to a coin flip.
While the Bulldogs came in with the better record (3-0), they were without one of their top players, Jeremy D'Amour, as well as two other players. To counter, the Eagles entered battle without senior James Gallo. Kennett was also coming off a game in which they were shut out for the first time since the semifinals in 2007.
Needless to say, the fans at the Ham Arena got what they paid for.
"It was a fun game," Kennett coach Mike Lane said. "It was weird in that it was scoreless for so long, but then the floodgates opened.
"But neither team is like it will be at the end of the season," Lane continued. "I was real pleased with the effort."
Neither team was able to score in the first period, though there were more than enough chances for both teams to get on the board.
Anthony LaRusso and Brad Canavari and the best chances for Kennett in the early going and keeper Josh Kondrat more than did his job at the other end, stopping B-G's best chances.
Connor Todd, Nick Ansaldi and LaRusso continued the Kennett pressure, but they couldn't solve the Bulldog goalie.
Kondrat made a huge save on a breakaway to keep the game scoreless and continued his strong play with a couple more saves. Nick Massa had a good chance for Kennett, as did Todd, but the Bulldog defense stepped up and kept the puck away from the net.
Belmont-Gilford put on some great pressure as the period was winding down and that resulted in a Kennett penalty with 30 seconds to go in the period. Todd did a nice job killing off the penalty for the remainder of the period and the first ended with the teams still scoreless.
Kennett opened the second half down a man for a minute and a half, but Kondrat made a save on the lone pressure put on him and the Eagles killed off the penalty easily.
Canavari, Todd and LaRusso continued the pressure for the Eagles and Ansaldi was stopped by the Bulldog defense.
Canavari helped out his team's defense with a nice break-up of a pass and both Todd and Dane Rivera had shots stopped.
The Eagles took another penalty with 4:56 to go in the period and after a nice clear from Robby Moody, LaRusso actually had a shorthanded bid denied. Kondrat made a couple of big saves, but with 3:40 to go in the period, the Bulldogs finally broke through, tipping a puck past Kondrat for a 1-0 lead.
Just more than a minute later, the visitors doubled that lead, going top shelf for a 2-0 lead.
LaRusso tried to answer right away, but rang one off the post. However, Kennett got a power play chance with 1:43 to go in the period and made it count, soring just 11 seconds into the advantage, cutting the lead to 2-1. Canavari got the goal on a wrap-around effort with 1:32 to go on an assist from Todd.
Ansaldi got a great chance and in the process, drew a penalty and the Eagles went on the advantage with 51 seconds to go in the period. Todd, Canavari and Moody all had chances in the final minute, but couldn't convert and the period ended with B-G up 2-1.
The Eagles weren't able to capitalize on the remainder of the power play as the third period opened, though LaRusso and Ansaldi had chances. Canavari, Todd, Rivera and Massa also had bids after the penalty expired.
However, it didn't take the Eagles long to erase the Bulldog lead, as LaRusso fired home a shot with 12:12 to go in the game on assists from Massa and Moody, tying the game at two.
Just less than a minute and a half later, Todd fed Canavari on a two-on-one breakaway and Canavari buried the puck for Kennett's first lead of the game, 3-2.
Kennett continued to pressure, with Ansaldi, Canavari and LaRusso, on a great pass from Mike Ellison, all getting looks. The Eagles took a penalty with 8:55 to go, but that didn't slow the Eagles, who clearly had seized the momentum. Massa found Canavari heading into the zone and Canavari scored again for a 4-2 lead on a shorthanded tally.
Ellison and Ansaldi did a nice job of killing off the remainder of the penalty and the Eagles got some more pressure from LaRusso and Todd but couldn't get in the zone.
With 3:31 to go, the Bulldogs cut the lead to 4-3 and then just missed tying the game, ringing a shot off the post. The Bulldogs kept pressuring, with Canavari and Ellison getting good clears.
With 30 seconds to go, the Bulldogs had their goalie coming off the ice and Todd picked up a loose puck off a faceoff and fired it into the empty net to seal the victory.
"What helped us, was they were playing with a short bench and a couple of guys were pretty winded," Lane said. "And once we got that first goal, the confidence picked up.
"That's the most confidence we played with all year," Lane added. "People doing the little things right was nice to see."
Lane also praised the play of Kondrat, who had 17 saves in the net for the Eagles.
"He's doing a heck of a job back there," Lane said.
The Eagles will be in action on Saturday, Jan. 5, when they host Kearsarge at 3:30 p.m. at Ham Arena. On Wednesday, Jan. 9, the team plays at Souhegan at 8:20 p.m.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126