BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro boys ice hockey team is looking like a big fish in a small pond -- or Lake in this case -- while chasing their first state title in school history.
The second-seeded Colonels outshot No. 10 Mount Mansfield 36-13 in Tuesday’s Lake Division quarterfinal at a jam-packed Nelson Withington arena and eliminated the visiting Cougars, 3-1.
"At this point, in the playoffs, you just have to win," said Lake Division Coach of the Year Eric Libardoni, whose 18-3 team will host Friday’s semifinal versus No. 3 Burr and Burton at 4:45 p.m.
The purple and white dominated the first period, outshooting their foes 12-3 and also dishing out some big hits. Andy Harris drove Adam Oler into the boards and Adam Griffin put a highlight check on Ryan Heath behind the net.
And Brattleboro would take the lead at the 3:11 mark. Harris carried the puck up the middle and drove it past goalie Joseph Airoldi, giving the packed house something to cheer about.
Airoldi would glove a laser from Griffin and deny another attempt by Harris to close out the period, but he had no chance when Andy Gadowski put home a Braxton Lynn feed early in the second to make it 2-0.
And suddenly, it appeared as though the Colonels may have been thinking about the next round.
"In the first period I thought we played pretty well, but in the second period we were out of control and just a mess," noted Libardoni.
Luckily, the Brattleboro defense and goalie Greg DiSilva kept Mount Mansfield off the board in that time. Defensive standout Philip Perkins stripped Brady Blow and Tyler Hawley, Cooper Turner-Renaud made a pretty clear behind his own net, Jon Curtis did a nice job keeping the puck in the Cougar zone, and DiSilva made a highlight stop on Justin Decatur’s breakaway.
The visiting fans started screaming, "M-M-U" in unison when their team went on a power play late in the second period. But Brattleboro’s Jimmy Podlaski, Turner-Renaud, Curtis and Harris were able to control play.
It was all BUHS to begin the third period: Nik Rancourt fired a back-hand, Griffin and Perkins each missed high with a blast, and Romello Lindsey had a rebound opportunity before attacking twice along the left side.
And then the unthinkable happened -- a defensive breakdown with 4:06 remaining allowed Decatur to shake loose on the left wing and score shorthanded to get the Cougars within 2-1.
Mount Mansfield would pull Airoldi in the final minute, which allowed for a fluke goal by Griffin that somehow curved between the posts on a clear. Perkins was credited with the assist.
Notes: This will be the sixth semifinal for the Colonels, who have a 1-4 record in those appearances. Their only final came in 1994, when they lost to South Burlington 4-3. Libardoni was named the Lake Division Coach of the Year, while Harris and Perkins made the 1st Team, DiSilva made the 2nd Team and Rancourt was named to the 3rd Team.
Shane Covey can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 163.