By Tris Wykes

WOODSTOCK – Woodstock High goalkeeper Tom Bissaillon walked off the soccer field Tuesday with his head down. The senior carried what he likely thought was responsibility for the tie-breaking goal that allowed Hartford to depart with a 2-1 victory. 

A three-sport athlete, Bissaillon is playing his first season in net, a safety precaution after suffering a serious knee injury as a field player last fall. It’s amazing the senior’s competing at all, and the two shots that beat him weren’t ones he could do much about.

“He made a really good effort on our second goal and I thought he’d pushed the ball around the post,” said Hartford coach Kevin Guilbault, whose team improved to 2-2. “You have to give him credit for just starting to play in goal.”

Woodstock High goalkeeper Tom Bissaillon receives a pat on the back after Tuesday’s game. Teammate Mason Harkins is at left.

Woodstock coach Rob Stainton said Bissaillon, whose primary sports are ice hockey and baseball, has had to develop on his own. 

“We don’t have a goalkeeping coach, so what you see is his natural ability,” Stainton said. “He’s kept us in close games recently with saves you’d expect from a veteran keeper.”

The deciding sequence came with 4 minutes, 25 seconds remaining. Hartford’s Tarin Prior drove the center of the field and was fouled as he approached the penalty area. A direct kick just outside the top of the arc was awarded and Prior cranked it into a three-man wall. The ball caromed back and to the right, landing in front of the Hurricanes’ Tanner Bessette. 

Thirty yards from goal and with a defender in front of him, the senior got his man to bite on an outside fake. Bessette then took an inside touch or two and fired a 25-yard shot past a diving Bissaillon and into the net’s upper left corner.

That the play developed after Woodstock initially defended Prior’s effort wasn’t lost on his coach. The junior often makes a demonstrative show and/or walks away from a continuing play if he loses the ball. This time, however, Prior continued to battle. 

“It’s not just (Prior) although he’s very noticeable in how easily he gets frustrated,” said Guilbault, noting that he stopped Monday’s practice to lecture on the topic. “He holds himself accountable to a very high standard and I don’t think he realizes he’s a high school-age player who’s going to make mistakes. 

“The sooner we get over that, the better we’ll be. We’re progressing, just not quite as fast as we’d like.”

Hartford High’s Tarin Prior, left, goes shoulder to shoulder with Woodstock’s Taylor Plourde. The Wasps’ Rowan Smail is at right.

Hartford opened the scoring in the fifth minute. Bessette drove the left wing and unloaded a cross along the end line that eluded Bissaillon and his defense. Nick Martin performed a small hop to redirect the feed into the net from a yard.

The Wasps (2-2-1) forged a tie 30 seconds before halftime. Hartford goalkeeper Shane Miller sprawled left and onto his side along the goal line, reaching for a loose ball he couldn’t hold. Woodstock’s Alec Small pounced on the turnover and chipped the ball towards the near post. 

Small’s kick struck defender Remy Lambert in the upper arm, resulting in Parker Kuhnert’s successful penalty shot. Woodstock seemed to ride the late tally’s momentum out of intermission.

Woodstock “was the better team in the second half,” Guilbault. “We weren’t making routine plays. I give (the Wasps) credit, because they play hard and physical and they’re under control. 

“At times, our guys tried to play physical back and we’re not under control with it like they are. It took us out of what we look to do.”

After creating few scoring opportunities during the second half, Hartford rallied for a strong, five-minute stretch late in the stanza and it crested with Bessette’s goal. Guilbault said simply stringing together two or three short passes to escape one’s end can be key in such a turnaround.

“It settled the group down and we were able to get a restart and bury it,” the coach said. 

Said Stainton: “In any league in the world, you don’t want players to score from distance because they haven’t been closed down. We didn’t convert the offensive chances that we had, and that’s why they had the opportunity to win.”

Woodstock High’s Andrew Gubbins (5) and Hartford’s Joey Beggs stage an aerial bette.

Notes: At one point in the first half, Woodstock had six players on the field with their Covid-19 masks below their noses or mouths. Guilbault asked for a halftime meeting with the referees and Stainton and the Wasps were somewhat better at second-half compliance. Hartford has taken a strong stand on the issue. During its last boys soccer game, against visiting Fair Haven, athletic director Jeff Moreno stopped the action because the Slaters were lax in mask use… Former Woodstock boys soccer coach, boys basketball coach and baseball assistant Tom Avellino attended the game. Avellino was dismissed without public explanation during the summer. He was 87-34-13 during eight seasons with the Wasps soccer team… Stainton previously coached the Sharon Academy boys soccer team but stepped down from that post in 2017 to coach his twin daughters in middle-school futbol. Turns out, however, that one moved to cross country and the other to mountain biking, which freed their dad up to take the Woodstock job last month.

If you found this story worthwhile, please consider donating to support the work that produced it. 

Octopus Athletics is an independent site covering sports in the heart of the Upper Valley. Your contributions allow us to bring you news without paywalls or pop-up ads.