At 3:45 on Friday afternoon, eleven members of the Williston boy’s hockey team boarded two mini-busses destined for the Winchendon School for a 6 PM contest versus a fully stocked Wapiti team. At 8 o’clock, those same eleven boarded those same mini-busses pocketing a 5-1 win behind a three-goal effort from new junior Dan McKiernan of Westport, CT, 30+ saves by senior Emile Savoie from Montreal, and the game-winner from Baltimore, ON’s favorite son, and Albany lacrosse commit, Adam Thistlethwaite. At 10:05, a certain bell was ceremoniously rung back on campus.
For five months, the Williston hockey team, like many prep school teams, trained with little-to-no hope for games as headmasters across New England tried to navigate sports during the pandemic. Games against Avon Old Farms, Canterbury, and Salisbury in November never came to fruition due to Connecticut and Massachusetts governors shutting their respective boarders from competitions. At Thanksgiving Break, with the blessing of Head Coach Derek Cunha, many of the members of the team joined junior and club teams in the US and Canada. When practice began again on January 18th, Cunha and Coach Hanford were met by two goalies and three players. Slowly, and after following quarantine protocols, the numbers crept back up. After a weekend home-and-home with Berkshire was cancelled, Athletic Director Mark Conroy was able to secure two games with Winchendon.
At practice on Monday, Cunha spoke to the players about the opportunity to play Winchendon this weekend and that we would only have a small number of players, including Thistlethwaite, who was claimed off waivers from Coach Blayne Lapan’s Athletic Performance team, and Owen Hunter from Coach Mike Fay’s junior varsity club. In the meeting with Cunha on Monday, the eleven players picked up the gauntlet and bought into the system that Cunha developed between reading admission files and writing his sixty-page final capstone paper for grad school. I’m sure many in New England looked at this game and couldn’t help but think back to the Rick Moranis box office smash, Little Giants, where younger brother Danny O’Shea (Moranis), with his depleted Pee-Wee Giants team, defeated his older brother and former Heisman Trophy winner Kevin (Ed O’Neill), and his fully loaded Pee-Wee Cowboys, except that in this real-life drama, the ending followed the Hollywood script.
Before the game, Cunha and Winchendon Coach, Brian Troy, came up with a format to make the game equitable. The teams would play two halves. The first half would be twenty-two minutes, 5v5. There would then be an intermission followed by one twelve-minute period of 4v4, and then a ten-minute period of 3v3, followed by a shoot-out.
At the drop of the puck, Williston came out like the winds of Aeolis pressuring Winchendon and putting them on their heels. After five minutes, the Wildcats had settled into a nice clip and both Williston coaches knew that if they could maintain the pace, the odds could fall in Williston’s favor.
Williston struck early on a nifty goal from McKiernan who intercepted a breakout pass in the high slot, drove to the net beating the Winchendon goalie over the glove. (Nice little story here: Dan is the son of former Williston Wildcat, Sean McKiernan, who was part of the team that won the first and only New England championship in 1986 coached by Williston’s beloved Jay Grant.)
Winchendon got on the board a few minutes later on an errant pass from Savoie; however, this would be the last goal that would pass by number 31 as Savoie built a brick wall on the goal line and was perfect from that point on.
Just a few minutes later, the soon-to-be Albany Great Dane, Thistlethwaite, with his locks of Samson, caught a puck in the mid-slot and let a wicked shot fly Winchendon goalie over his glove. RIDE THE LIGHTING, A.T.! The first half ended, 2-1.
The second half began with Winchendon on the power play. Will “The Durham Destroyer” Gaca of Durham, NC was an instrumental part of this penalty kill effort working like a Skillsaw and getting pucks out. A few minutes later, Williston went up 3-1 when Charles Monteith, of Raleigh, NC, dug a puck out from the right corner of the Winchendon zone and began driving behind the corner only to let a pass go to the freight train from Lloyd Harbor, NY native, Riley Van Son who buried a one-timer from the low slot. He crashed into the boards but was ok.
Williston went up 4-1 on the 3v3 session when Will Tripp skated up the ice with the precision of a surgeon, crossed into the Winchendon zone and made a pass to McKiernan that glanced off a Winchendon defenseman’s leg and onto number 21’s stick who was cutting in from the left side of the zone. With the Winchendon goalie sliding to his right, McKiernan brought the puck across the crease shooting into an open net.
McKiernan notched his third of the game when Alex Latkovski of Montreal, blocked a shot at the point and hit him with a soft backhand up the middle of the ice. McKiernan drove into the Winchendon zone with back checkers breathing down his neck and let go a nifty shot that, again, beat the Winchendon goalie over the glove putting the contest out of reach.
Savoie helped the Wildcats the rest of the way using the confidence he gained with the Cornwall Colts of the CCHL as he shut down the Winchendon offense on countless opportunities. He was also helped by key blocks by seniors Latkovski (four) and Roscoe Eade of Catonsville, MD (three), and sophomore Joe “Beaston” Easton of Southwick, MA (two).
After the final buzzer, both teams participated in a shootout. Williston’s Monteith potted two are-you-kidding-me goals, while senior leader Latkovski, and Tripp netted one a piece taking the shootout, 4-3.
The game puck was a “program” puck for the entire group’s effort by defeating a heavily-manned Winchendon team with only ten skaters and a goalie,
Winchendon traveled to Williston on Saturday afternoon to complete the home-and-home series and while things looked promising for the Wildcats, who come out with a 3-0 lead in the first half of the game, the lead would not hold as the Wapiti would pull off a 5-4 victory in overtime. Saturday would see 32 minutes of 5v5 play, the first and third periods 16 minutes each, with the middle stanza 16 minutes of 4v4 split with an ice-cut. Coming off Friday’s effort tanks were emptying quicker than 45 second water breaks could replenish the Wildcats between their short shifts. Goal scorers for the Wildcats on this day were Tripp (2g), Easton (1g) and Thistlethwaite (1g).
The Williston Eleven proved their meddle this weekend and while they did not get the sweep, their hard work and determination was valiant. And don’t worry, mom and dad, the boys went to bed early on Saturday night!
Williston was to play the Cushing Penguins this weekend but Covid protocols have prevented the games from happening.
Berkshire awaits next weekend. Watch all the action on the livestream!