Keene High team reaches Holy Grail, a first state title in hockey
Oddly enough, it had to end this way. Destiny demanded it. That’s the way Keene High hockey Coach Chris McIntosh saw it, at least. The Birds won their first-ever state title, 3-2, in overtime against St. Thomas Aquinas. When sophomore Joseph Walsh scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Blackbirds over St. Thomas Aquinas in the Division II state championship game here Saturday, McIntosh said it just seemed right. That a kinder fate had intervened. Walsh’s goal handed Keene a dramatic 3-2 victory and its first-ever state title.
“If we were going to win a championship,” McIntosh said, “it couldn’t have been authored any better.”
It was Walsh who scored the game-winner with 2:05 to go Friday against Dover in the semifinals. Saturday’s game-winner alone qualified him for hero status; two deciding markers in less than 24 hours, well … the history of that will be shared over the years, and it will yield its own descriptions. But there is no denying that his for-all-the-marbles goal Saturday is the biggest of his young career. It put the Blackbirds in a new stratosphere – that of state champion – and it prevented having to endure a defeat in this very moment for a second straight year.
Here is how it went down: On Keene’s first possession in the offensive zone of sudden-death overtime, senior captain Tim Greenwood carried the puck across the offensive blue line along the left half-wall. He came to a stop near the top of the faceoff circle and fired a pass to Owen Haas entering the zone on the right side with a full head of steam. Haas let a wrist shot go, but was denied by St. Thomas goaltender Chris Eno. Walsh was there for the rebound. Walsh’s first attempt didn’t cross the line, but his second effort was just enough.“I just saw the puck going to the net and I knew we needed to drive it home,” Walsh said. “I wasn’t giving up on it.”
The goal was made more dramatic because the Blackbirds, leading 2-1, had given up the equalizer with just 1:11 to play in regulation. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Matt Maclean tallied that goal. In that suspenseful twist, Keene center Zach Mooers won a defensive-zone faceoff back toward his own goal. Maclean made a quick move toward the puck and dove to get an attempt at goal. Maclean swatted at the puck and sent it up and over the shoulder of Keene goaltender Myles Ditkoff. It rattled around off the post and in the crease, but Haas’s attempt to clear it was unsuccessful. The Birds poise and resolve in the face of that adversity is the stuff of champions.“It truly couldn’t have happened any other way; it was just too good,” McIntosh said, again referring to the electrifying script that played out. “Everything that this team’s been through the past couple years – the triumphs, some of the disappointments … this moment was just perfect.” After a scoreless first period, St. Thomas was first on the board. Maclean got his first of the night when Jojo Grella recovered a loose puck behind the net. Maclean found himself wide open in front of Ditkoff. When he gathered the pass, Maclean wasted no time in firing it past Ditkoff. In quick — call it an omen? — fashion, the Birds responded. Just two minutes later, Ben Brown skated behind the net, after his aggressive forechecking forced a turnover. Mooers collected the puck and got it out front to Dimitri Seger, who buried it for his second goal in two days. The game stayed even at two until the 12:51 mark of the third period. That’s when Marcin Maleski found Greenwood waiting at Keene’s offensive blue line. Greenwood rushed into the zone on a 2- on-1 advantage with Walsh streaking toward the net. The senior captain elected to shoot and sent it past the glove of Eno and, short side, to put Keene ahead.
The Birds might have preferred to draw up the game differently, but on this big stage anything goes, and the unexpected, history shows, is to be expected.“You can’t win a championship without adversity,” the Birds’ first-year head coach said. “I felt like it was the icing on the cake.” The moment got bigger and the moment got better.
“We actually really embraced the fact that we got a chance to go out there and score a goal that was going to end it and let us just go nuts on the ice.”
Helmets, gloves and sticks flew in the seconds after Walsh’s resounding goal, the one that history will retell. The Birds tasted a different result a year ago, but they answered by earning the No. 1 seed this season, and finishing the deal. Haas, who played junior hockey in California last season, returned to Keene this year with the hopes of bringing home a state title. He registered an assist in Saturday’s final and another one in the semifinal.
“Coming back, the team has worked so hard all year,” Haas said. “To make it out on top is unbelievable.”
The Birds lose eight seniors, but their young cast is proven and tested, players like Walsh, Mooers and sophomores Ben Brown and Brian Langevin. Among the graduating seniors are the team’s captains: Greenwood, Aiden Kane and Marcin Maleski.