Saturday March 9, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The 2012-2013 Colonels had the goal of getting to the state championship from the beginning of the season. But in early December, Coach Eric Libardoni’s team knew it was easier said than done. The Colonels had every reason to believe in that goal though, with eight seniors leading the way, and a solid goaltender.

But on Friday night, the No.2 Colonels dropped a nail-biter, falling to No. 3 Burr and Burton, 2-1, in the Lake Division Semifinal. That same goal will be used to motivate the current Colonels and the new wave of players, just only next season. These Colonels shouldn’t have much to be ashamed of, finishing the season 18-4.

The group of Colonels that contributed the most to the stout season record are the group of players that had their last chance; the seniors. All eight of them; Jimmy Podlaski, Romello Lindsey, Nik Rancourt, Ryan Cobb, Andy Harris, Philip Perkins, Adam Griffin, and Jason Molina, had a unique style of play and work ethic that led this team to the semifinals. Ask the two freshmen Evan Perkins and Braxton Lynn, and they’ll write you a novel on these seniors leadership.

As would Coach Libardoni, who has seen all of them grow and develop to the players they are today, ever since freshman year. "They’re the best", said Libardoni. "They played hard for me for four years. They put everything they had into it. They’ve put a lot into this program."

The defensive breakdowns in front of Colonels goaltender, Greg DiSilva, carried from game to game this season. That trend would come to haunt the Colonels in their most important game to date, with each Bulldog goal resulting from traffic up front, and screens.

With 4:59 remaining in the second period, Elijah Brown proved to have the game winning wrist shot from the point, sending Bur and Burton to the Vermont State Championship. With traffic in his face, DiSilva had almost no chance to detect the puck and missed it glove side.

But the Colonels didn’t go out easy. With just 22 seconds into the game, the Colonels gave up a slap shot goal, mainly due to serious nerves. The packed Nelson Withington Rink was silent for almost another 13 minutes, until Podlaski sent the Colonels fans to their feet.

Using his speed to an advantage, Podlaski flew past the Bulldogs’ defense from the right wing. He picked the top right corner, and snipped a wrist shot past Bur and Burton goaltender, Zack Stewart.

"I thought we played really well. That’s a good team, and well coached. They’ve got some good players. Their goaltender was excellent, and that was the difference. We couldn’t get anything by him. [DiSilva] played well too, but they had two screen goals, and we couldn’t get one to go by [Stewart]. He played great. Give him all the credit."

As the final seconds ticked away, the emotions started to come out. The realization that the skates of eight players will hang for the last time kicked in. Knowing this won’t make Coach Libardoni’s job easier. Moving on from such a great team and season is never an easy thing to do.

"We rebuild," noted Libardoni. "We’re losing a lot of seniors. They should be proud of everything they did. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids to coach."

It will be a long offseason for the returning eight Colonels next season. They’ll have much to think of and digest after the devastating loss on Friday night. The change from eight seniors to just three next season will mean one thing: leadership will have to come from more players.

The 2013-2014 Colonels will have a tough task next season. But hopefully, they can turn Friday’s disappointment into motivation. Libardoni and his team will have the taste of just one more win for a long time. Each and every one of the returning Colonels knows what it takes to get the semifinals. Now they’ll have to motivate the new freshmen to want that taste of almost glory.

Libardoni will spend his offseason reminiscing over the successful season for a while, but then it’s back to work. He’ll work to get this team back to where this season ended, and hopefully one game farther.

"The young kids have learned a lot and we got a lot better. We’ve got more kids that can play at this point. I’m excited for next season to get the opportunity to play. That’s a long way off right now."