Keene hockey team skates away from Merrimack in title game
The holiday tournament format resembled a preseason hockey jamboree, with teams playing two games a day, running time, a single intermission and 9 a.m. faceoffs.
But make no mistake, the Keene High hockey team was all business when the puck dropped this week at Keene ICE. After all, they did keep score. And when the Blackbirds finished counting their goals Friday afternoon, they added up to a 7-1 rout over Merrimack High in the championship game of the impromptu Keene High School Boys’ Ice Hockey Christmas Tournament.
The Birds allowed themselves a mild celebration in gathering around goalie Taylor Panek, and later posed for a team picture in front of their bench. Plenty more challenges lie ahead — the bulk of the regular season is in front of them and an opportunity to defend their Division II state title beyond that. Yet as January approaches, the Birds are pleased with how they’re playing.
“It was a good week for us. We played everybody consistently, skated well and executed well,” Keene Coach Chris McIntosh said.
Had a tournament MVP been awarded, it wouldn’t have been a difficult choice. Jerred Tattersall scored four goals and added two assists in Friday’s championship game. He scored twice in Keene’s 6-1 win over Nashua South in round-robin play Friday morning, and potted three in two round-robin games Wednesday, giving him nine goals for the tournament.
The Tomahawks had no answer for Keene’s top line of Tattersall, Joe Walsh and Brian Langevin. They accounted for all seven goals in Friday’s title game — Tattersall did the scoring, Walsh did the dishing (five assists with one goal) and Langevin was the jack-of-all-trades with two goals and three assists. Call them the wash, rinse and dry line.
It wasn’t as easy as it looked, Tattersall insisted, especially with the unique tournament format. “It’s definitely stressful getting prepped, getting in the zone with two games a day. It takes a lot,” he said.
Merrimack got the Birds’ attention Wednesday by playing them to a 2-2 tie in the 9 a.m. tournament opener. McIntosh said the early hour combined with not being on the ice for a few days over the Christmas break left them dragging. “Certainly, it was something they had to adapt to,” he said.
It appeared the championship game would be similar, with the Tomahawks skating stride for stride with the Birds through the first 15 minutes. Shots on goal were 5-5 and Merrimack’s Zach Stimeling scored the first goal 12 1/2 minutes into the game. “We went into this game knowing these guys could play,” Tattersall said.
Yet it was all Birds thereafter, as they consistently drove to the net, snapped off quick passes and eagerly devoured rebounds. “We played hard, we played smart and I thought we played very well,” Tattersall said. He netted the equalizer two minutes after Merrimack’s goal, and Keene took a 3-1 lead into halftime. Tattersall scored less than a minute into the second half and the rout was on.
That’s right, second half, halftime, a single sweep of the Zamboni — not the usual hockey vernacular. The tournament consisted of two 30-minutes halves of running time, a necessity due to the logistics of putting it together at the last minute. Keene was originally scheduled to play in an eight-team Christmas tournament at Conway Arena in Nashua, but it was canceled about a month ago.
Still wanting to skate, the Birds and their booster club managed to squeeze in time at Keene ICE. The available slots for ice time, however, didn’t allow for full games with three 15-minute periods. For instance, on Friday, two morning games were played, followed by a public skate that attracted several hundred people, then the nets were slid back out for the 2:30 p.m. championship.
Merrimack and the two Nashua teams (North and South) happily came over, grateful for a place to play, and the tournament format was devised to fit into the available ice time. McIntosh said they had enough requests to fill out an eight-team field, and next year may do just that.
“Our booster club has already put in a full season of work putting this together. They’re exhausted,” McIntosh said with a smile.
The team, of course, played two hours of hockey Wednesday and Friday, but you left with the feeling they would have been more than happy to play some more.
“Our goal was just to get the kids out there playing hockey and we accomplished that,” McIntosh said. “I thought it went really well.”