Bears author storybook ending in NHIAA D-I title game

Hanover High's Casey Wilkinson, right, hugs Heidi Kauffman (8) after the Bears won the NHIAA Division I girls hockey championship on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High's Casey Wilkinson, right, hugs Heidi Kauffman (8) after the Bears won the NHIAA Division I girls hockey championship on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. valley news photographs — Tris Wykes

Hanover High's Rachel Rockmore is surrounded by a trio of Oyster River-Portsmouth Clipper Cats during the NHIAA Division I teams' championship game on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. Hanover won, 2-1. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High's Rachel Rockmore is surrounded by a trio of Oyster River-Portsmouth Clipper Cats during the NHIAA Division I teams' championship game on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. Hanover won, 2-1. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Hanover High goaltender Eleanor Edson watches the puck enter her net during a March 9, 2024, NHIAA Division I title game against Oyster River-Portsmouth at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. Hanover won, 2-1. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High goaltender Eleanor Edson watches the puck enter her net during a March 9, 2024, NHIAA Division I title game against Oyster River-Portsmouth at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. Hanover won, 2-1. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Valley News — Tris Wykes

Oyster River-Portsmouth's Meagan Rinko is surrounded by Hanover's Hannah Gardner (3), Rory Seelig (12) and Julia Lawe during the NHIAA Division I teams' championship game on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. Hanover won, 2-1. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Oyster River-Portsmouth's Meagan Rinko is surrounded by Hanover's Hannah Gardner (3), Rory Seelig (12) and Julia Lawe during the NHIAA Division I teams' championship game on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. Hanover won, 2-1. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Hanover High girls hockey coach John Dodds drapes a championship medal around the neck of forward Julia Lawe following the Bears' 2-1 defeat of Oyster River-Portsmouth on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High girls hockey coach John Dodds drapes a championship medal around the neck of forward Julia Lawe following the Bears' 2-1 defeat of Oyster River-Portsmouth on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Hanover High girls hockey coach John Dodds is flanked by captains Maeve Lee, left, and Nora Bradley after the Bears beat Oyster River-Portsmouth, 2-1, in the NHIAA Division I title game on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Hanover High girls hockey coach John Dodds is flanked by captains Maeve Lee, left, and Nora Bradley after the Bears beat Oyster River-Portsmouth, 2-1, in the NHIAA Division I title game on March 9, 2024, at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-10-2024 8:31 PM

Modified: 03-11-2024 5:24 PM


MANCHESTER — The story is told by Hanover High girls hockey coach John Dodds only if his team reaches the NHIAA final and at the conclusion of its last practice before the big game.

The tale describes how Dodds’ 1973 Hanover boys hockey team used an utterly improbable goal with a second remaining in its state title contest to necessitate overtime, where the then-Marauders prevailed. It is tradition for Dodds’ players crowd into the net and its crease, sitting on the ice and looking up at their leader as if they were kindergarteners while he spins his yarn.

“Works every time,” chuckled Dodds on Saturday following the second-seeded Bears’ 2-1 comeback victory over fourth-seeded Oyster River-Portsmouth in yet another championship clash at SNHU Arena. The 19th-year coach’s teams are undefeated in the finals and have won 12 times during the past 15 years.

Nora Bradley’s shot from the slot with 46 seconds remaining pushed Hanover to its 13th championship since the NHIAA began sanctioning them in 2008. That followed Faith Lindsay’s goal with six minutes remaining that pulled the Bears (16-4-2) into a tie.

“We weren’t getting our usual shots and passing, and the longer that went on, the harder they were gripping their sticks,” Dodds said of his players as their joyous screams echoed inside a cinder-block hallway. “But Faith came through, and it was as if a weight was lifted off our shoulders.”

Oyster River-Portsmouth ousted Hanover in last year’s semifinals before losing to Bishop Guertin in the title game. The Clipper Cats were lucky — and some felt unworthy — of being in this year’s championship after a bizarre end to their quarterfinal defeat of Berlin-Gorham.

Mountaineers players and coaches rushed onto the ice to celebrate an apparent winning goal and were mobbing the scorer when an Oyster River-Portsmouth player skated the puck the length of the ice and shot into an empty net. The Clipper Cats (16-5-0) were awarded the victory after 15 minutes of confusion and anger, followed by a scuffle in the handshake line.

“We play by the rules, simple as that,” ORP coach Jamie Long told Foster’s Daily Democrat on Saturday. “These girls showed they deserved to be here.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hartford parts with state champion girls hockey coach
Kenyon: By charging for after school program, CCBA loses sight of its mission
Over Easy: Baby crazy in West Lebanon
Fairlee and Orford Fourth of July parade canceled due to traffic concerns
Search for missing Dartmouth graduate student ends tragically
Plan for 240 apartments in White River Junction completes planning and zoning review

Oyster River-Portsmouth was the better team during the first two periods and took a 1-0 lead during the second stanza on a Mallory DeSantis goal.

“They made every inch of ice tough for us, and it took everything we had to hang with them,” Dodds said. “We were over-stickhandling and trying to do too much. We talked about wanting a grinder goal, not an ESPN highlight.”

Said Bradley: “The first two periods, we were a little uncomposed and rattled by the strength of the Oyster River team. But our coaching staff inspired us between the second and third periods.”

Hanover came alive after the second intermission and forged a tie when Lindsay fired from inside the blue line and near the right boards.

“I just wanted to get a shot on net and a nice rebound,” said Lindsay, a junior and the fourth sibling in her family to play locally, two at Lebanon High and one at Hanover.

Goaltender Sage Bussiere, screened on the play, realized the puck had gone past her near-side ankle a second too late.

“Faith had her best game of the season today,” Dodds said. “Winning battles, chipping pucks out of the defensive zone, making good passes and decisions. She’s really grown this year, and that was a huge, huge goal.”

Overtime loomed but Bradley nixed the need for an extra session. The junior positioned herself between the circles as a Maeve Lee shot bounced off Bussiere and was swiped backward by Rory Seelig. Bradley took a split-second to set her feet and look up, then fired over the goaltender’s blocker and into the net’s upper left corner.

“I knew time was low but not that it was under a minute,” Bradley said. “When I realized that, I went crazy. It was such an exciting moment.”

Bussiere made 20 saves in just her fourth career start. Her first was last month during a 10-1 loss to Hanover.

Dodds has long made a habit of scheduling strong foes from New York and other New England states to steel his teams for the postseason. The outcomes count in the NHIAA standings and often result in a lower playoff seeding for the Bears, but it’s a tradeoff the coach is more than willing to accept.

“Every out-of-state game we played this year was like today, and they were great experience,” he said, noting Hanover went 2-4-2 in such contests this winter and played both its preseason scrimmages against traditional Vermont powers. “We played teams that were better or dead even with us and who made us work.

“Our kids know what pressure’s like at the end of a game, and that was magnified today when it was for a state championship.”

Dodds said those outside his program don’t realize how difficult it is to maintain its success, that reaching title games isn’t automatic.

“I think these girls appreciate it now,” he said. “Our seniors had gotten knocked out in the semis twice.”

Lee, one of those two seniors, clutched the championship plaque coming off the ice.

“It’s a great way to go out, and I love this team,” she said. “We’re such a family.”

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