BBA, U-32 clash for state crown
And the Bulldogs can think of no better setting than the University of Vermont's Gutterson Fieldhouse.
"Being a senior and going to the Gut, making it to the championship, has been a dream come true," said BBA senior forward Brock Pollard.
Unbeaten in their last 17 games, No. 3 Burr and Burton has a chance to cap that dream run with one final triumph against top-seeded, free-scoring U-32 in the Division II championship game tonight at 6:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs (17-3-1), save for an early three-game skid, have been unbeatable since the Raiders (19-2-1) sent them packing in last year's semifinals. They remain the only club U-32 has failed to topple this season, with a season-opening 6-4 win and a 2-2 midseason tie to their credit.
But one more victory would be enough to heal the Bulldogs' year-old wound.
"It would be kind of nice to sting them back," BBA senior defender Bennett Timmerman said before practice Tuesday at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the closest rink to Manchester still available this late in the season.
Tonight is BBA's first trip to the state final since 2009, making it the first trip to Gutterson for the team's seven seniors.
"Our initial goal was to get to Gutterson but we obviously want to win it all," Timmerman said.
An offensive powerhouse stands in the way in the form of speedy U-32, which has averaged six goals a game this season and hit the 10-goal mark on four occasions.
Jordan Jones (47 points) owns a team-high 27 goals for the Raiders, one of three 20-goal scorers along with defender Shane O'Neill (39 points) and Cole Mugford (55 points -- 35 assists).
U-32 reached the final with a 9-0 quarterfinal win against Woodstock and a 6-2 result against Northfield in the semis.
The draw with the Raiders -- BBA led 2-0 early and gave up an equalizer with less than 90 seconds to play -- has been the only tarnish on the Bulldogs' current 17-game run.
Known commodities like seniors Sean Paradis (21 goals, 15 assists), Pollard (16 goals) and Henry Buckley (11 goals) have been constants all season for BBA, but new sources have supplied key offense in the playoffs.
Sophomore Nate Eisenman delivered his third varsity goal to decide a 4-3 win against Hartford, while defender Elijah Brown netted the game-winner in a 2-1 semifinal win on the road against Brattleboro.
Supported by one of the state's premier goaltenders in senior Zack Stewart, who stymied U-32 with 50 saves in the draw earlier this year, an inexperienced BBA defense has grown stronger down the stretch, too.
"We're doing the little things," Timmerman said. "We've been working on D-zone coverage all year and it's pretty much knowing that our job isn't to put the puck in the net, it's our job to keep it out of the net."
Their final test -- on the Vermont's biggest stage, no less -- will likely be the toughest yet.
"When I think of our main rival I think of U-32," Pollard said. "They're a really good team and they never give up."
"It's going to be a grind," he said.
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