After slow start, Hanover boys hockey figures out how to win

Hanover High's Jack Wilkinson celebrates with teammates on the bench at Campion Rink after scoring during his NHIAA Division I team's 5-4 defeat of Nashua North-Souhegan on Feb. 14, 2024, in West Lebanon, N.H.

Hanover High's Jack Wilkinson celebrates with teammates on the bench at Campion Rink after scoring during his NHIAA Division I team's 5-4 defeat of Nashua North-Souhegan on Feb. 14, 2024, in West Lebanon, N.H. valley news photographs — Tris Wykes

Chaos reigns near the Hanover High net as the descending puck and the glove of Nashua North-Souhegan's Jake Dodge meet at the facemask of Bears defenseman Henry Cotter. Hanover won the NHIAA Division I teams' Feb. 14, 2024, game at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H.  (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Chaos reigns near the Hanover High net as the descending puck and the glove of Nashua North-Souhegan's Jake Dodge meet at the facemask of Bears defenseman Henry Cotter. Hanover won the NHIAA Division I teams' Feb. 14, 2024, game at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. valley news — Tris Wykes

Hanover High's Henry Cotter, left, and Wyatt Seelig celebrate a Bears goal during their team's 5-4 NHIAA Division I defeat of Nashua North-Souhegan on Feb. 14, 2024, at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H.  (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High's Henry Cotter, left, and Wyatt Seelig celebrate a Bears goal during their team's 5-4 NHIAA Division I defeat of Nashua North-Souhegan on Feb. 14, 2024, at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Hanover High's Henry Cotter steps out of the penalty box, leaving a pair of teammates behind, during the Bears' 5-4 defeat of NHIAA Division I foe Nashua North-Souhegan on Feb. 14, 2024, at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. The teams combined for 22 penalties during a game that lasted 2 1/2 hours.  (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High's Henry Cotter steps out of the penalty box, leaving a pair of teammates behind, during the Bears' 5-4 defeat of NHIAA Division I foe Nashua North-Souhegan on Feb. 14, 2024, at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. The teams combined for 22 penalties during a game that lasted 2 1/2 hours. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Youngsters hold aloft cardboard cutouts depicting, from left, Hanover High hockey players Mateo Trimble, Jack Wilkinson and Wyatt Seelig. The Bears honored their seniors before and after their 5-4 NHIAA Division I defeat of Nashua North-Souhegan at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Youngsters hold aloft cardboard cutouts depicting, from left, Hanover High hockey players Mateo Trimble, Jack Wilkinson and Wyatt Seelig. The Bears honored their seniors before and after their 5-4 NHIAA Division I defeat of Nashua North-Souhegan at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High's Andrew Rudd, left, prepares to pass to Jack Wilkinson during a 5-4 defeat of NHIAA Division I foe Nashua North-Souhegan on Feb. 14, 2024, at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. Rudd was whistled for three of his team's 11 penalties and the visitors had an equal amount during a game that lasted 2 1/2 hours. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High's Andrew Rudd, left, prepares to pass to Jack Wilkinson during a 5-4 defeat of NHIAA Division I foe Nashua North-Souhegan on Feb. 14, 2024, at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. Rudd was whistled for three of his team's 11 penalties and the visitors had an equal amount during a game that lasted 2 1/2 hours. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-15-2024 8:31 PM

Modified: 02-16-2024 4:06 PM


WEST LEBANON — Dick Dodds stood outside the Hanover High boys hockey locker room at Campion Rink on Wednesday night and paused before answering how he’d describe his team’s 5-4 defeat of Nashua North-Souhegan.

“Mind-boggling,” said the 43-year bench boss, a man who’s seen just about everything that can occur on a rink. “It was a special teams battle. The lines got all jumbled up, and I’m proud the kids managed a game like this.”

The teams each committed 11 penalties during a 2½-hour clash filled with clutch-and-grab, stick-swinging play. The action was filled with stumbling and falling and upended combatants. Only four fouls were whistled for roughing, the rest primarily for stick violations.

“The refs told us midway through the game that they were going to call everything,” said Hanover co-captain Jack Wilkinson. “We had to adjust to that, and we just passed around this team.”

A night after ending visiting Concord’s 56-game regular-season unbeaten streak, the Bears (10-5-0 league, 12-6-0 overall) hosted a foe farther down the standings. The Saber Titans (6-8-0) gave a good account of themselves during one of the more unusual games at Campion in years.

Wilkinson’s goal with 11 minutes remaining proved to be the winner, bolstering Hanover’s hopes to remain in fourth place or better and earn a first-round bye in the upcoming NHIAA Division I playoffs and the right to host a second-round contest. The Bears have won nine state titles, most recently in 2018.

Hanover began the season 0-3-0 before rallying to win two of three games at the Manchester holiday tournament, including an upset of Concord, winner of three of the last four D-I state titles. From there, the Bears have won 10 of 12 contests, often led by Wilkinson’s brawn and classmate Wyatt Seelig’s high motor, agility and nose for the net.

“We switched our lines around, and we’ve been working our butts off,” Wilkinson said. “We want to win this thing more than any other team, and we have the skills and heart to do it.”

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Dodds said a team with only four seniors needed time to develop but started the season against Bedford, Bishop Guertin and Bow, losing two of those three games by a goal. Hanover is vastly improved under the veteran coach, his son Alex and onetime Bears goaltender Harris LaRock.

“We were a pretty young group coming into the season, and it took the kids a month or so to realize they are pretty good,” Dick Dodds said. “We’ve really picked up our forecheck the last month, and that’s kind of become our identity. When we’re buzzing down low, it’s fun to watch.”

Moving Trevor Lichtenstein back to defense gave the blue line a smart, steady presence despite the senior having never previously played the position. Dodds noted Hanover still struggles with transitional defense, those instances when a turnover or loose puck gives opponents a chance to rush up ice with the Bears back on their heels.

“Almost all their goals came when we lost the puck in the offensive zone and one of their fast players took it to the other end,” Dodds said. “We had a hard time handling that.”

Henry Cotter’s rebound goal opened Wednesday’s scoring during the sixth minute. The hosts entered the first intermission tied, 1-1, after surrendering a goal while up two men 41 seconds before the break.

The second period saw Hanover take a 3-1 lead on a pair of Seelig strikes before the visitors pulled within 3-2. Cotter scored on a slap shot from the left point, but the Saber Titans cashed in a two-on-one break to pull within 4-3 a minute before the stanza closed.

Wilkinson’s shorthanded goal four minutes into the third period appeared to be merely an insurance tally, but Nashua North-Souhegan kept the clash tight by pulling within 5-4 with six minutes to play.

“Concord was a super tough game, and we put our heart and legs into it,” Wilkinson said. “We were pretty tired going into this one. We thought we could play with those top teams, but now we know we can and we’re going to show that in the playoffs.”

Notes: The Seelig family brought its German shepherd onto the ice for a pregame senior photo with son Wyatt. … The game ran long enough that the Lebanon High girls team’s following practice was delayed by a half-hour. … Before the original Nashua High split into North and South versions in 2004, it won two state boys hockey titles and added a runner-up finish. Neither North nor South has reached the finals since. … Wilkinson said he’s investigating the possibility of playing junior hockey next winter. … Hanover has handed Concord its only two losses this season but has lost twice to Bedford (6-8-0).

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