U-32 4, Hartford 2: Hurricane boys hockey falls in semifinal

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-04-2023 8:38 PM

BARRE, Vt. — When Barre’s Board of Recreation ice arena was being constructed in November 1972, the project came to a crashing halt when a strong wind arrived at just the wrong time.

The contractors were installing the last of 12 giant wooden arches that would support the roof. One of the 8-ton arches toppled and the rest fell like dominoes, leaving the $400,000 project almost back at square one.

Friday night in the now-venerable building, the Hartford High boys hockey team experienced a similar, sudden downfall. Tied with second-seeded U-32 late in a VPA Division II semifinal, the third-seeded Hurricanes surrendered two goals within four minutes and fell, 4-2.

Raiders center Hazen Stoufer scored all his team’s goals, but the senior might not have been the game’s best player. His goaltender, Duncan Mathies, made 39 saves while his team was outshot, 52-21.

“If it wasn’t for (Mathies’) effort, I don’t think they win the hockey game,” said Hartford coach Todd Bebeau, whose team lost in last season’s final. “I thought we played great tonight. This was a great, up-tempo high school hockey game tonight, in a great atmosphere.”

The old barn was packed, and the home stands erupted five minutes into the contest when Stoufer blew past a flat-footed defenseman along the boards, sailed through the neutral zone and whipped a low shot past Hartford goaltender Davey Bradley from atop the left circle.

The hosts doubled their lead six minutes later. Lance Starr moved outside a defender in the right circle and watched Bradley stop — but not secure — his shot. The puck landed at the netminder’s feet, and Stoufer poked it across the line during a wild scramble.

By that time, Hartford had 21 shots to the Raiders’ seven.

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The Hurricanes (18-4-0) remained afloat on Nolan Morlock’s tally three minutes before the first intermission. The sophomore, gliding right to left across the slot, flung a backhand shot over the glove of a screened Mathies, defenseman Cavan Benjamin earning an assist.

“Obviously, the start didn’t go our way but we buried one late, which changed the whole complexion of the game going into the second period,” Bebeau said.

Defenseman Connor Tierney lifted Hartford into a 2-2 tie five minutes into the middle stanza, ripping a wrist shot from the left point and high into the net’s opposite corner.

A potential turning point in the contest came with three minutes remaining in the second period when U-32’s Nolan Lyford hit a Hurricane from behind in the corner. He escaped with only a minor penalty, despite Bebeau’s vociferous objection. A major penalty and its ensuing five-minute, non-releasable power play might have turned the contest’s tide.

Instead, U-32 went up, 3-2, midway through the third period. Stoufer pushed a faceoff drop past his opponent, slid around him and shot all in one fluid motion, beating Bradley from the bottom of the right circle.

“Just a great high school hockey play,” said an admiring Bebeau.

The Raiders (19-2-2) stuck in the dagger less than four minutes later after a Hartford defenseman spit the puck up from behind the net under pressure, the biscuit sliding to an unguarded Stoufer in the slot. The captain buried his chance, and U-32 was off to its first final since 2016, when it won the program’s sixth state championship.

“We sustained pressure in their zone even though we didn’t get a lot of shots,” said Raiders sixth-year coach Shane Locke, whose 14 seniors endured an 0-21 season as freshmen. “Hazen Stoufer plays well in all three zones. He’s very insightful, and he lets his teammates know what they need to do.”

Locke said Mathies allows slightly more than a goal per game and boasts a .930 save percentage. Cheerful and approachable in everyday life, the goaltender retreats into a focused shell before games and is left alone in the locker room, the coach said.

Bebeau remained in his locker room for nearly 20 minutes after the game. He emerged saddened as much by the end of his time with seniors Tierney, Joseph Barwood, Ozzie DeFelice, James McReynolds, Blaine Gour and Sean Kelliher as by the night’s outcome.

“It’s not about the loss right now, it’s about the relationships that I’m going to miss with our six seniors,” Bebeau said. “I’ve known them since they were small human beings, and that’s why my heart is broken for them.

“My kids left it all on the ice, and sometimes the game of hockey is cruel.”

Notes: Bradley made 15 saves. He is one of four goaltenders on Hartford’s roster. … The second period was delayed for 10 minutes while the game’s three referees worked to cover a long gash in the ice surface. … Bebeau passed the 300-victory mark during the season, his 25th behind the bench at his alma mater. His players know to change lines when they hear his distinctive mouth whistle from the bench. … The Hurricanes were 22-1-0 last season.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

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