#7 Gunnery vs #2 KUA Elite 8 NE Prep Playoff
Keene, NH-The Kimball Union Wildcats played a poised, patient, mostly mistake free game and posted a 1-0 win over Gunnery to continue on and defend their NE Prep title against Lawrence on Saturday. It took over 52 minutes but Seth Stadheim (Lyme, NH) was the hero as he fired home the game winner with just 1:54 left to send the defending champs home on a happy bus ride. The game was played at a neutral site for travel reasons. Veeti Kohvakka (Muurane, FIN) stopped all 18 shots to earn the shutout win. Gunnery goalie JP Mella (Stamford, CT) was superb in his final game at Gunnery, making several spectacular stops and back boning seven penalty kills.
The first period there was little feeling out as both teams came out hard. KUA wanted to play physical and they did as they made several big hits. The first five minutes teams traded chances but then the Wildcats seemed to start to get the better of the quality shots. JP Mella made several excellent saves and helped fight off two very good KUA power play chances. Gunnery best chance came shorthanded. as Alex Jefferies (Lunenberg, MA) took a pass from Robert Cronin (Plymouth, MA) for a wide-open shot at close range. The two DI commits made quite the penalty kill tandem. KUA took a late penalty but killed it off.
The second period Gunnery took three penalties which stemmed any momentum they were able to gather. They killed all three off as Mella again came up huge, even using the back of his paddle on one stop. Gaps became to be a clear differential as well. While the KUA kept tight gaps and made plays at their blue line, Gunnery was allowing the Wildcats easier entry to their zone. This meant KUA created more clean zone entries and had the puck more. That forced Gunnery to chase and defend more. The last few minutes the pace picked up and both teams had some excellent chances. Veeti Kohvakka made several good stops including one at the buzzer to keep it 0-0.
All the big names for both teams had chances the first two periods. Tomas Mazura (Czech Republic), Kyle Penney (Lawrencetown, NS), Christian Felton (Medina, OH), and Seth Stadheim among others had shots from good spots. For Gunnery Alex Jefferies, Alex Coady (Milford, MA) and Robert Cronin all had a quality chance or two. Shots were listed as 18-12 after two in favor of KUA which is about right. Considering KUA had five power plays to Gunnery’s one at this point.
The third period, Gunnery was forced to kill off more penalties but they seemed to be getting better and better, even generating some offense down a man. The period was pretty tight five on five and you could feel the tension. Just as it looked more and more like OT, Stadheim fired home the winner. Zack Whitehead (Meriden, NH) and Sullivan Mack (Anchorage, AK) assisted on the goal. Gunnery was able to get Mella out and create a few chances but KUA remained poised, smart and looked prepared for that situation. Final was 1-0 KUA. Both coaches commented after the game.
“It was a heck of a hockey game. Both teams competed extremely hard and left it all out on the ice. Both goalies were outstanding. I have tremendous respect for Gunnery and how they play the game. I wish we could play them more often, but the travel times prevent it. It certainly could have gone either way today, and we feel fortunate to have gotten the last bounce today.” Said KUA Coach Tim Whitehead
Coach Craig Badger said about the game, “Thought it was just a really good game all around by both teams. Both teams rolled their lines, played hard, had great scoring chances and got great goaltending. In the end they were able to pop one and we weren’t. While we are not happy with the outcome, we are proud of our guys for how they played today and for all they accomplished this year.”
1st Veeti Kohvakka (KUA)
2nd Seth Stadheim (KUA)
3rd JP Mella (KUA)
NZ’s Take: As we mentioned in our new video feature on Instagram “Parking Lot Post Game”, the penalties hurt Gunnery. None were egregious but there were just too many and it never allowed them to gain traction. That combined with KUA only taking two, really put Gunnery in a bad spot. KUA had the puck more and forced a lot of the calls, so they deserve credit. Not often you win a game going 0-7 on the PP but Mella and the PK unit was very good for Gunn. We also really liked how tight KUA’s D kept their gaps. It forced some offsides that were good transition chances for Gunnery but also never really allowed them to start their offense with pace or possession. For KUA; Stadheim was good all night. Fast, tricky and creative, he hunted pucks and did more than just score the goal. Very good NESCAC type. Zach Taylor (Hanover, MA) played an understated game but was excellent in his end. He has a great defensive stick and is smart. Player to keep an eye on if he plays junior. Helps them win games. Two-way type with upside. Christian Felton stood out all game. Really talented and awesome on the power play. For Gunnery; seniors Jake Digirolamo (Montreal, QC) and Ryan Trom (Raleigh, NC) put on a PK clinic. They were excellent. High energy and effort, great sticks and willing to block shots. Big reason for the 0-7. Jefferies and Cronin killed as well and were able to create a couple chances. Case Kantgias (Bloomfield Hills, MI) has great size and excellent straight-line speed. Interesting but has to learn to walk the line and stay out of the box. His aggression, however, is excellent. . Mason Beecher (Billerica, MA) didn’t score much this year but he is big and athletic and also attentive in his end. We think a late bloomer. All the Gunnery defense moved the puck well. Coady played like he wanted this game as he hit, made plays on the breakout, PP, PK and created up ice. He was very good in a tough loss.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images