The Lawrence Academy Spartans entered the weekend as the fourth seed in the Stuart/Corkery division of the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association tournament but quickly served notice that the team from Groton, Mass., was on a mission to win its first New England championship in team history.
|Lawrence Academy players earned the right to celebrate their first-ever New England championship. (Dave Arnold Photography)|
The Spartans arrived in Salem, N.H., for championship weekend after dispatching Belmont Hill. They needed an overtime goal from senior Devin Tringale (Medford, Mass.) to get past Salisbury School. That set up a meeting in the finals against No. 2 Nobles & Greenough School, who had defeated Avon Old Farms and Phillips Exeter Academy on their way to the finals.
From the moment the puck dropped for the opening faceoff, the capacity crowd at the Salem Icenter was treated to a high flying, up and down game with plenty of skilled plays and bone jarring body checks.
Lawrence Academy’s Matt Baldino (Woburn, Mass.) opened the scoring 4:15 into the opening period with a wrist shot five feet out from the crease, beating Nobles goaltender Connor Maher (Marshfield, Mass.) over his glove hand. William Messa drew the assist with a smooth pass from the left corner to Baldino.
Nobles’ Cal Burke (Boxboro, Mass.) would answer Baldino’s marker with one of his own 2:35 later tying the match at 1-1 with a hard wrist shot after carrying the puck from the left to the right of the crease then firing his goal scoring shot back across the grain, high over the glove of Lawrence netminder Nathaniel Heilbron.
After Burkes’ goal, the goaltenders took over with each making several big saves to keep the game a low-scoring affair.
The teams ramped up the intensity at the start of the second period and it paid off for Nobles, as they took a 2-1 lead 3:08 into the period. Will Sleeper (Wellesley Hills, Mass.) jammed home a rebound after Heilbron made two stops from in close. Max Franklin (Wrentham, Mass.) and Will Doane (Holliston, Mass.) earned the helpers.
The goal was a shot of inspiration to Nobles offense, as they continued to storm Heilbron’s crease. But the senior from West Vancouver, B.C., closed the door on the Dedham, Mass., school.
Offensively, it was Tringale who took control of the reigns for the Spartans.
At the 15:17 mark, the Harvard-bound forward scored off a tic-tac-toe passing play where junior Michael Russo (Burlington, Mass.) moved the puck across the ice from the right wing to Tringale, who found Tyler Whitney in the high slot. Upon receiving Tringale’s pass, Whitney unleashed a wrister into the top corner over Maher’s glove. The lamplighter tied the tilt at 2-2.
Lawrence Academy struck again with 18 seconds remaining in the period after Messa intercepted a Nobles clearing attempt just inside the Nobles blue line at the left point. He carried the disc to the right slot then made a cross crease pass to Tringale, who stuffed the puck past Maher to put his club on top 3-2.
The two squads had the fans out of their seats throughout the third period with each team looking to cash in on quality scoring chances, but once again the goaltenders were the stars of the this show. It would be Heilbron and his Lawrence Academy teammates who would toss their gloves and sticks toward the Icenter’s ceiling and engage in a jubilant group hug upon hearing the final buzzer.
After the game, head coach Kevin Potter said, “I thought we played three solid periods. A team like that, Nobles has great skill, so you need some puck luck. These kids (Lawrence Academy), I can’t say enough about the seniors and the team chemistry. I’ve been doing this for over twenty years and there was no question in their minds they were going to get it done. I’m happy for the kids”
For Baldino, who opened the scoring, it was a dream come true.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. I can’t even explain it in words,” Baldino said. “We came to the semis last year and came out empty-handed. It was the worst feeling in the world. Today it’s the best feeling in the world. (There’s) twenty brothers in that locker room and we couldn’t be any happier.”
For Tyler Whitney, winning the title was the culmination of four years of hard work.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” said Whitney. “It’s pretty surreal. Four years here and we finally accomplished what we wanted.”
When asked about his team’s performance, Heilbron said, “In the quarterfinals (against Belmont Hill), my teammates really helped me out in that one but even though I might have made a couple of big save during the weekend, they came back and gave me a lot of support. I really can’t take a lot of the credit. I’m just so happy and overwhelmed. I’m sure it won’t hit me until I wake up tomorrow morning but it’s just unbelievable.”
For Baldino, Whitney, Heilbron and all of their teammates, they better believe it: Lawrence Academy can finally savor its first championship.