Published DateGILFORD — Jay Londer, Belmont-Gilford hockey coach, thinks he's got a good hockey team this season, perhaps good enough to bring him his first District III title. However, to be the best one must beat the best, and that's an opportunity Belmont-Gilford will have twice within the next week. On Wednesday, Belmont-Gilford will head north to take on the undefeated Berlin, then will host the division's powerhouse on Saturday.
Beating Berlin would be significant, both for playoff scheduling and for the statement the victory would make. That's the same statement Londer hoped his players would make this Saturday, though, when they traveled to Souhegan. The Bulldogs handily out-shot their opponent 40-24, but it was Souhegan that was able to take advantage of Belmont-Gilford mis-steps to force the game into overtime, where they stole a 5-4 win.
"They capitalized on opportunities, we have to commend them for that," said Londer. "It was a good game, a fast-paced game. I'd rather play that game over and over than win by seven."
It was one of the few games so far this year where the Bulldogs were tested. Seven of their eight wins saw Belmont-Gilford enjoying a margin of at least five goals. When they took a 4 to 3 lead with six minutes left in the third period, it seemed the momentum would carry the Bulldogs to victory. A couple of penalties later and it was Souhegan with the momentum.
"We got undisciplined in the third and it caught up with us," said Londer. Although Souhegan didn't score during the third quarter power plays, Londer said he had to put his best players in to kill the penalty, instead of using them to strengthen the team's short-lived lead. With no cushion, Belmont-Gilford's lead lasted only a minute, as Souhegan capitalized on a turnover on Belmont-Gilford's blue line to force overtime. Then, in the extra period, the Bulldogs let their defensive guard down for just a moment, but it was enough to allow Souhegan one crucial, game-ending shot.
Caleb Drouin, a freshman, scored twice for Belmont-Gilford. Andrew D'Amour and Max Desmarais each scored once.
Londer said his players, who had controlled play for much of the game, were in disbelief that they had let the win get away. "They were stunned, definitely shocked. I don't think they planned on losing." The Bulldogs will have the chance to settle the score with Souhegan in the last game of the regular season, a match up Londer expects will be a great way to transition to playoff hockey. The loss to Souhegan also underscores the significance of the coming two games.
"Now it's a must that we go up to Berlin and win," said Londer. That's no easy task, though. Berlin's record tells a tale of near dominance. Six times this season they've shut out their opponent. In the last three games, Berlin has allowed three goals, while scoring 28. Most recently, Berlin beat Laconia-Winnisquam by the score of 13-1.
"They're undefeated, they play really tough at home. I expect a fast game, and really physical." Yet, Londer is optimistic, encouraged by the offensive performance his players exhibited in Souhegan. "If we get 40 shots against Berlin, we'll come out with the 'W'."
Win or lose, Londer will learn a lot about his team, and will use that information to improve the team's chances in a post-season run. Londer said he looks at regular-season games the way a teacher regards pop quizzes. "They're all quizzes, showing what we need to study, getting ready for the final in March." In the loss to Souhegan, Londer said, his team revealed a need to work on power plays, late-game discipline, and pace. He wants his team to "flip a switch" as soon as the puck drops at the beginning of the game, to come out playing with speed and intensity and take an early advantage. With a good goal keeper, solid defense and the ability to put the puck in the net, he thinks this could be Belmont-Gilford's year.
"We have the personnel to do it this year. We have to work hard, it all starts in practice.. We could really shock people come March."