By Mike Zhe
Cushing Academy gave coach Rob Gagnon, an Avon Old Farms alum, some bragging rights over his alma mater with a win in the 2013 Martin/Earl (large school) tournament championship. (Photo by Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)
SALEM, N.H. — It was a chance for the pupil to go up against the mentor.
When teams from Cushing Academy and Avon Old Farms faced off in the finals of the Martin/Earl (large school) tournament last month, there also was a palpable sense of what may have been.
Both programs have elite championships to their names — Avon won five times between 2004 and ’10, while Cushing captured a title in 1998. But stumbles down the stretch cost both teams a spot in the elite field, and they had to make peace with facing off for a Martin/Earl championship at the Icenter after winning quarterfinal and semifinal games.
Things started with a bang, when Shane Kavanagh scored for top-seeded Cushing on the opening shift, just 24 seconds into the game. And that’s how it ended, with Penguins goalie Mike Dion (31 saves) and Avon’s Cody Doyle (29 saves) playing well in a 1-0 game.
“I think we all just finally came together as a team,” said Cushing senior forward Garrett Hehir. “No one played individually. We all bought in and wanted to win it all.”
Not earning a place in the elite field stung, the Penguins said, but that was tempered by knowing there was still hockey left to play against good teams.
“We just wanted to go out and win something,” said Hehir.
It was a satisfying win for Cushing coach Rob Gagnon, who prepped at Avon and played for its legendary coach John Gardner in the mid-1990s before going on to the University of New Hampshire.
“Anytime you play your alma mater and win, it makes it more meaningful as a coach,” said Gagnon.
The third-seeded Winged Beavers ended their season at 16-9-4, playing through some injuries but not achieving what they’d hoped. Behind talented players like captain Griff Martin, Nick Hutchinson (12-26-38) and Mason Krueger (13-18-31), they were good enough to rout sixth-seeded Choate, 8-0, and come from behind to beat No 2 Thayer, 3-2, before getting blanked by Cushing.
“We didn’t get done what we wanted to get done,” said Gardner.
The Penguins, who beat eighth-seeded Governor’s and No. 5 Phillips Exeter en route to the final, took away a little more satisfaction.
“We had a little chip on our shoulders,” said Gagnon. “Our team knew we kind of underperformed throughout the year. We wanted to use this tournament to show our critics that we can be an elite team.
“It would have been very easy for our seniors to just look at this as the large-school tournament and not compete as hard as they should.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.