May 24, 2014

Esposito steers Loomis to glory in Martin/Earl tournament

By Arielle Aronson

Junior forward Alex Esposito triggered the offense as Loomis Chaffee won its first New England title. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

It pays to get hot at the end of the season. Just ask Loomis Chaffee boys hockey, which won its first championship in 20 years — and first New England championship in program history — when it beat No. 1 seed St. Paul’s, 3-2, in the Martin/Earl tournament last month.

The last time the Pelicans hoisted a season’s-end trophy was in 1994 when they won the Founders League, but the program had struggled since then and hit a low in the 2011-12 season when it finished with a 2-23 record. It did not seem like this year would be the year Loomis would snap out of that drought either, as the Pelicans were a mediocre 7-7-1 through their first 15 games.

But Loomis (14-10-3) made the most of its wins during the regular season by beating quality opponents such as Kent, Gunnery and Choate and earning ties against tournament contenders including Taft and Phillips Andover. Loomis qualified for the large-school 
tournament as a six seed on the heels of a 2-0-1 streak — highlighted by a 1-0 win over Choate — to close out the regular season.

“I credit the guys for their persistence,” said third-year coach John Zavisza. “Even when it was rough, they showed up to work every day. We won when we had to, when our necks were under the knife, and I think that demonstrates the character of the group and the overall persistence, willingness to compete and win.”

The Pelicans continued to show their mettle when playing on a loftier stage in the Martin/Earl tournament, where they posted 
one-goal wins over the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the quarterfinals and semifinals to advance to the championship game against top-seeded St. Paul’s.

One of the keys for Loomis in the final two tournament games was the play of junior forward Alex Esposito (West Haven, Conn.). In Loomis’ 2-1 win in the semifinals over No. 2 Andover, Esposito scored the game-winning goal with 13 seconds remaining in regulation. He came through in the clutch again in the championship game, as he scored a go-ahead goal in the second period and the game-winner in the third to help Loomis to its first New England title in program history.

“Over the course of (Esposito’s) career, he’s gotten a lot of big goals for us,” Zavisza said. “You want your top guys to have games like that in the big show. He came up big when it really mattered.”

Esposito committed to play college hockey at the University of Vermont one week after winning the tournament championship. But with another year of prep school hockey ahead of him, Esposito will be looked to as a leader of a Pelican squad next year that will try to ensure Loomis does not endure another 20 years without a championship.

Twitter: @aharonson28