By Tris Wykes
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – When Hartford High boys hockey goaltender Colby Boyce was lured away by Kimball Union Academy last summer, the Hurricanes appeared to have suffered a serious blow. Boyce was one of Vermont’s best backstops and starred as a freshman last winter, helping the team go 15-7-1 and reach the Division II semifinals.
Judging by Saturday’s season opener at Barwood Arena, however, the Hurricanes aren’t as wounded as initially thought. The hosts staged a 5-3, comeback victory over St. Johnsbury behind two Bentley Boonyaharn goals, a goal and two assists from Aidan Boonyaharn and 14 saves from freshman Davey Bradley in his first high school game.
Bradley “came up big,” said 23rd-year Hartford coach Todd Bebeau, noting the rookie could be playing his final season of youth hockey. “We were down, 3-2, and it could have very well have been 4-2 if he hadn’t made a big save in the second period. Then in the third period, he came up big a couple times as well. For his first game with us, I’m really pleased.”
Bradley attends Orford’s Rivendell Academy and lives in Vershire, meaning rides to the rink with schoolmate and Hurricanes’ senior captain A.J. DeBois can take as long as 40 minutes. He didn’t know most of Hartford’s hockey players before practices began late last year, but nearly two months of workouts without games solved that issue and allowed Bradley time to adjust.
“If there’s a silver lining to the seven weeks of practice, it’s his growth and acclamation,” Bebeau said. “He has improved every single day and shown what he’s capable of doing. We’re going to be ok.”
Bradley said he played hockey on ponds before moving to the Hanover Youth Hockey Association and then the Upper Valley Storm. Amazingly, he’s only in his fourth season as a goaltender and hasn’t followed the common netminder’s path to club hockey and specialized coaching.
“I go to hockey camp for a week in the summer,” said the 5-foot-9, 145-pound rookie, who played behind Boyce in the youth ranks and realizes the large skates he has to fill. “I was really nervous today. I ate a healthy breakfast and ran on my treadmill and then started doing stretches and getting mentally ready.”
Hartford opened the scoring during the sixth minute, Bentley Boonyaharn whirling nearly 180 degrees in the slot and slapping the puck past goaltender Nathan Hughes. The Hilltoppers equalized three minutes before intermission but spent much of the opening stanza in their own end and were outshot, 12-5.
The Hurricanes took a 2-1 lead two minutes into the second period when Blaine Gour popped home the rebound of a Connor Tierney shot from the point. However, Finnish import Viktor Pallasvesa pulled St. Johnsbury even again when he beat Jackson Balch at the blue line, sprinted into the offensive end and turned Simon Spaulding inside out before faking his way past Bradley.
The visitors went up, 3-2, when Nat Adams scored off a Pallavesa faceoff win to Bailey’s right. Hartford’s Jacob Dwinell cashed in a breakaway 90 seconds before the second intermission and Bentley Boonyaharn scored again, this time at the left post and 17 seconds before the break, to give the hosts a 4-3 lead.
Hartford’s Aidan Boonyaharn closed the scoring with 5:39 remaining, tipping in a Tierney shot from the blue line.
“The kids were buzzing from the beginning,” Bebeau said. “I really liked our depth. I thought we had three lines that moved very well.”
The trio of Dwinell and the Boonyaharns is small but mighty and no fun to face. Bentley Boonyaharn, a senior, and Aidan, a junior, don’t seem to fully enjoy a game if they’re not goading opponents, bickering with each other and wearing each and every emotion on their jersey sleeves. Bebeau compares them to Boston Bruins pest and sniper Brad Marchand.
“If they’re on your team, you love them and if you’re playing against them, you hate them,” Bebeau said. “You throw Dwinell in with them and they probably weigh 250 pounds, but they’re fearless. They go to the net, they have skill, they play with an edge and they really set the tone.”
That tone was clearly belligerent at times. Hartford was only called for two penalties but committed several other borderline hits, self-destructive behavior that will cost it games if not altered. Hulking forward Gordon Willey, the son of the onetime Hurricanes football star of the same name, was fortunate to make only one trip to the sin bin. With his size, style of play and long, golden curls, the junior could become a whistle magnet if he’s not careful.
“I liked our energy but sometimes our kids lost control of their emotions a little bit,” Bebeau said. “For a high school hockey game, two penalties is acceptable in my book. But there’s room for improvement with our discipline and our emotions.”
That figures to evolve as the Hurricanes play more often. Saturday was a release of pent-up energy and anxiety that had built for weeks as state officials first prohibited winter sports, then allowed practices and finally games.
“It started to show a little bit,” Bebeau said. “I won’t say the kids were losing hope, but we didn’t know if they were going to give us a green light. But when we got the ok, there was a switch that turned and the focus and the way they practiced with conviction changed.”
The coach paused. Bebeau’s not known for passionate verbosity but it was clear he shared in the joy exhibited by his nearby players.
“It’s about creating the opportunity for the kids to be kids and play,” the coach said. “Today’s a good day for us. We’re happy to be playing again.”
Notes: Bebeau on the Boonyaharns: “You see them arguing, but it’s with each other. I don’t know how many glasses of milk are spilled at the dinner table with those two. They’re at each other, but they care and they love to play hockey.”… Bradley said the part of his game that requires the most improvement is his rebound control… Colston Allen, a senior forward for the Hurricanes, is out for the season after shoulder surgery and DeBois missed Saturday’s action with his own shoulder woes… The limited length of Barwood’s benches meant Hartford’s fourth forward line of freshmen Jaden Poirier and Nate Clark and sophomore Matt Cooney had to stand behind their teammates for the entire game… Hughes made 22 saves for St. Johnsbury… Hartford assistant coach Kevin Guilbault said the Hilltoppers have had to practice outdoors and at Barwood because of limited ice availability caused by Covid-19 worries… The Hurricanes debuted new, red helmets, part of an effort by athletic director Jeff Moreno to have all school teams play with red headgear, following the football team’s lead.
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