By Tris Wykes

CONCORD – The collapse was shocking for both its suddenness and totality. Leading by three goals and pitching a shutout with 10 minutes remaining in Wednesday’s NHIAA Division III semifinals, the Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal boys hockey team somehow lost to Berlin-Gorham, 5-3. 

The Mountaineers scored their first two goals during a 21-second span, tied the contest with 5 minutes, 32 seconds to play and Brody Duquette produced the winner on an improbable shot along the ice and from an extremely sharp angle with 2:11 remaining. Berlin-Gorham capped the dizzying stretch when Tyler Rousseau scored into an empty net from deep in his own zone and with 10 seconds to go.

Berlin-Gorham players celebrate their first goal against Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal goaltender Toby Cromwell. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“We thought we were going to win it and we just stopped playing,” said Lebanon captain Andrew Duany, his voice soft and on the verge of breaking. “Those two goals so close to each other, that was a gut punch.”

The Raiders (9-4-1) filed off the ice utterly stunned, although junior center Griffin Auch remained kneeling on his team’s goal line for several minutes after. Goaltender Toby Cromwell made 36 saves but he and LSRM’s defense broke down at about the same time.

“We got outshot badly,” said Raiders coach Jim Damren, whose team targeted the net only 14 times. “Toby kept us in it for two solid periods… but late, we got steamrolled. When momentum shifts, sometimes it’s really hard to get it back.”

Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal committed five of the game’s seven penalties, bucking a long trend in which it had mostly avoided the sin bin. Two of the fouls were committed by defenseman Ryan West, a sophomore moved into the regular rotation three games ago after junior Luke Greene left town for a family trip from which he has yet to return.

Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal defenseman Jake Kriplin makes a cross-ice pass. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Two of the Raiders’ other penalties came from top defenseman Jake Kriplin and frontline forward Will McGee. With Kriplin out and West struggling with turnovers for a second consecutive game, LSMR sometimes used rearguard Nathan Stark, a junior who might have skated 20 shifts all season, few if any of them in pressure situations. 

Berlin-Gorham (13-2-1) didn’t score on the power plays, but killing them wore the Raiders down and primed them for a fall.

“I think it was more emotional than physical,” Damren said. “These kids are in as good a shape as they’re ever going to be.”

Lebanon’s Aidan Yates opened the scoring on a power play during the third minute and a Kriplin snap shot from the right point went in four minutes later to give the Raiders a 2-0 lead. 

LSMR took six of the game’s first seven shots. However, it committed three consecutive penalties during a 14-minute stretch that overlapped the first and second stanzas and trailed, 14-9, in shots at the first intermission.

Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal’s Aidan Yates, left, leads a celebratory string of Raiders after opening Wednesday’s scoring. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“In the first period, we got two goals and our guys were really, really high,” Damren said. “We frustrated the hell out of (Berlin-Gorham) for two periods.”

Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal went up, 3-0, two minutes before the second break. Auch whizzed up the left side, induced a backskating Mountaineer’s errant poke check and moved to his backhand to score at the right post. Berlin-Gorham, however, held an ominous 25-10 shot advantage as the third period began.

“We talked about don’t sit back, you’ve got to keep attacking,” said Damren, whose team blew an early advantage to lose its season opener at Belmont-Gilford. “You can’t sit on a lead, ever. If you do, you get complacent. If you don’t attack, you’re not competing.”

West was whistled for his second penalty a minute into the final stanza and although his teammates killed it off, Berlin-Gorham’s Griffin Melanson soon scored his team’s first goal after a scramble near the crease. 

Twenty-one seconds later, Dom Paradis’ slap shot from the left point was tipped into the net’s upper, right corner by Rousseau to make the score 3-2.

Kriplin went off for holding 24 seconds later and by the time his penalty expired, Berlin-Gorham had taken nine of the period’s first 10 shots. The Mountaineers tied the contest, 3-3, with their 36th shot of the game. An open Duquette had several seconds to aim and fire from the high slot. 

Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal’s Andrew Duany (12) has the puck knocked away by Berlin-Gorham’s Cam Pake. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

LSMR forwards by this time were barely challenging the puck at the points and making curving turns and one-handed stick swipes when they did so. Blocked shots all but became extinct in the Raiders’ end. The deciding tally’s form was a surprise, given that Cromwell has shown enough promise that he was drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last summer.

“I don’t know if it was (shot from) below the goal line or right along the goal line,” Damren said. “I assume he came off his post a bit and wasn’t expecting a shot from there. That’s why the cliche is ‘throw pucks on the net, good things will happen.’ Today, it did for them.”

From behind the coach and through the open locker room door came the sound of a stick being thrown and a frustrated shout. Such a loss will take time to process, something Damren included in his postgame comments to his players.

“I told them they have nothing to be ashamed of and to keep their heads up,” the coach said. “It stings pretty badly. That one’s going to stick with me for a while and I know it will for them.

“A lot of times, high school sports are more about life lessons than championships and today was one. As an adult I can appreciate that, but as a 16- or 17- or 18-year old, I would have been right there with them.”

Notes: Auch had two assists and Duany, Hunter Christian and Kriplin had one each… Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal was 2-1-1 against Berlin-Gorham during the regular season… The Raiders graduate Duany, Yates, Kriplin, Joe Roberts and goaltender Hunter Robb… Lebanon High principal Ian Smith and athletic director Mike Stone attended the game, as did Stevens athletic director Doug Beaupre… Damren noted that none of his players were quarantined for Covid-19 this winter. “The guy were great all year at following the (health) protocols,” he said.

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Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal coach Jim Damren speaks during a time-out. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.