Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hanover Hockey will Play for a D3 State Championship after Route of Swampscott

By Jake Levin (@JakeLevin09)

Stoneham, Mass. - Continuing to raise the bar after an unbeaten regular season is no easy task, but the Hanover Indians keep finding a way.

Hanover (24-0-1) is headed back to the TD Garden for the third time in the last five seasons after pulling away from the Swampscott Big Blue on Wednesday night at Stoneham Arena for a 5-0 win in the Division 3 Eastern Mass final.

The victory sets the stage for a clash of the titans with the Shrewsbury Colonials on Sunday in the Division 3 State Championship, after the Colonials edged the Westfield Bombers, 2-1, in the Central/West final.

The Big Blue (13-6-6) held the Indians off the scoreboard for the entire first period thanks to 16 saves from netminder Dan Johnson. Swampscott continued to hold the highest-scoring team in the entire state at bay well into the second period, until Connor Morris finally broke the dam on the power play at 10:44 of the middle frame.

“There was no panic, it was more ‘alright, just keep finding the pucks and eventually one would go in,’” Hanover head coach Jonny Abban said after the game. “It built off of that.”

Connor’s younger brother, Manning, had a pair of goals for the Indians, each tally more deflating for Swampscott than the last. The freshman first cashed in 14 seconds after a Big Blue power play expired at 13:30 of the second period, giving Hanover a 2-0 lead headed back to the locker room.

After another Swampscott power play expired in the third period, the younger Morris needed even less time to break Big Blue’s heart. He cashed in off a breakaway a mere 9 seconds after a Hanover penalty expired, making it 4-0 Indians at 8:06 of the third period and all but assuring Hanover of a Garden party.

“Slow start but then we decided to pick it up in the second period,” said Manning Morris, whose pair of goals gave him 20 points on the season. “It was all uphill from there.”

Zach Taylor also scored in the third period for the Indians, his 37th goal of the season. With an assist on Connor Morris’s goal, Taylor has 63 points in 24 games.

Justin Conforti completed the scoring for Hanover at 11:52 of the third.

The Indians have now scored 132 goals on the season, more than any team in the state in any division, both in boys’ and girls’ hockey. They boast a plus-104 goal differential, the lone team in Massachusetts outscoring their opponents by triple digits.

And yet for as ridiculous as the entire body of work is for Hanover, it’s been turned up a notch in the postseason. Five games in, the Indians are outscoring their opponents by a 28-1 margin. Collin DiNardo of the Bishop Stang Spartans remains the only player to score on Kevin Chandler, who now has nine shutouts on the season.

“Going into the year, we knew these were the expectations,” defenseman Drew Cratty said. “We knew that if we could come together as a team we thought we could get there. We’ve taken care of it every night.”

Abban credited Hanover’s depth for its dominant showing in March, citing an ability to continuously roll with four forward lines and three defensive pairings.

“I give my hat off to Swampscott, they played us tough,” Abban said. “I think our key heading into the game was skating four lines. I think as that continues in the tournament, we still have legs in the third period.”

The matchup with Shrewsbury on Sunday is a rematch of the 2014 title game, won 6-1 by the Colonials. While all players from that game on both sides have long since graduated, Cratty acknowledged that it would still be nice to right the wrong of yesteryear.

“It’d feel great to bring that back for the kids that used to play, and just for the program and our town,” he said.

Shrewsbury (19-2-2) only lost to St. John’s Shrewsbury, a Super Eight team, and Algonquin. One of its ties came against Canton, which also happens to be the lone team to deprive Hanover of a full two points this season.

If the schedule for Sunday at the Garden is anything like year’s past, the Hanover-Shrewsbury showdown should be the third game of the day, beginning at roughly 1 p.m.

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