Lebanon boys hockey beats Hartford to win holiday tournament

Lebanon-Stevens-Mascoma goaltender Evan George, shown during action on Dec. 7, 2022, backstopped the Raiders to the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic title on Dec. 28, 2023. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon-Stevens-Mascoma goaltender Evan George, shown during action on Dec. 7, 2022, backstopped the Raiders to the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic title on Dec. 28, 2023. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file — Tris Wykes

Lebanon-Stevens-Mascoma goaltender Evan George, shown during Dec. 7, 2022, action, faced 50 shots during his team's 3-2, shootout victory over Hartford during the Dec. 28, 2023, Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic championship in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon-Stevens-Mascoma goaltender Evan George, shown during Dec. 7, 2022, action, faced 50 shots during his team's 3-2, shootout victory over Hartford during the Dec. 28, 2023, Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic championship in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Evan George

Evan George

Mason Ballard

Mason Ballard

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-29-2023 10:42 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Evan George rescued the Lebanon High’s boys hockey program last season. Thursday night, the sophomore carried the Raiders to their first Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic title since 2014.

An unassuming sophomore working doggedly on a mustache, George stopped 31 shots through overtime, then added three more during a shootout that lifted his co-op squad (with Stevens and Mascoma) to a 3-2 victory over Hartford at Wendell A. Barwood Arena. The 16-year-old denied Ezra Mock’s backhand attempt to seal the deal then disappeared under a stream of screaming teammates who rushed off the visitors bench.

“Ecstatic, I think that’s the best word for it,” said George, who played nearly every game during last winter’s 1-19-0 campaign. “Hartford beat us badly last year in this tournament, so this is very exciting.”

Until George transferred from Hanover after last year’s first semester, it appeared what was then the Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal hockey program would try to compete without anyone who’d ever played goaltender.

Then-coach Jim Damren even floated the idea of using six skaters and no backstop.

In reality, LSMR would have been so overmatched that the program’s very survival might have been in doubt. George’s arrival forestalled those worries somewhat, but a lack of overall numbers dogged the team until tiny Mount Royal was switched out for larger Mascoma last spring, plumping up this season’s roster.

First-year coach Dean Cashman, previously a longtime Hanover assistant, was brought in for a restart. A positive, forward-thinking tactician, he made no predictions about his rejiggered team’s record, especially because the co-op’s larger enrollment forced the Raiders up into NHIAA Division II.

“Tonight is a huge boost,” said Cashman, whose team is 3-2-1. “We never thought past playing Woodstock (in Wednesday’s semifinals). Just reaching the final was a big step for this program. Winning it? I’m still processing that.”

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

The Hurricanes, who have advanced to the VPA Division II semifinals three times during the past four seasons, threw 50 shots in George’s direction. Many sailed wide, however, and those on target weren’t usually accompanied by screens or jostling atop the crease that might have made them more difficult to stop.

Still, the Hurricanes (4-0-1) kept LSM mostly pinned in its end throughout the third period. The Raiders scored on two of their first five shots against freshman goaltender Nunu Mayer but forced him to make only 11 saves, none during the five-minute overtime. George stopped 12 shots during the last 15 minutes alone.

“I kept telling myself that it was my game and I was in charge,” George said. “As soon as you start thinking negatively, everything goes downhill.”

LSM won the shootout, 4-3, receiving two goals from Mason Ballard and single strikes from Benjamin Benes and Paddy Mooney. Jack Clary lost the puck stickhandling, and Tyler Christian shot it directly into Mayer’s chest. Lochlan Park, Cavan Benjamin and Logan Caffrey provided Hartford’s shootout goals, with Nolan Morlock and Mock being denied, the latter twice.

The George-Morlock showdown was the game’s highlight and left the large crowd in Barwood Arena in near-hysterics.

Morlock dropped George to the seat of his pants with a forehand fake to the left. Seemingly clear to slide home an unimpeded backhand at the opposite pipe, Morlock instead watched in disbelief as George lunged backwards and stopped the puck with his stick’s paddle.

“I knew I couldn’t get there, but luckily, my stick could,” George said with a small smile. “It gave us an extra kick.”

Morlock opened the game’s scoring during the eighth minute with a one-time shot from the slot off a Caffrey feed from the end boards. An onrushing Mooney ripped in a wrist shot from the left circle 26 seconds later.

Benes gave LSM a 2-1 lead less than a minute after that, cashing the rebound of a Benjamin Fogg shot. Hartford’s Mock used backskating defender Ryder Desharnais as a screen to beat George with 90 seconds remaining in the first period.

The Hurricanes not only squandered decided advantages in shots and offensive-zone possession but a pair of five-on-three power plays.

Coach Todd Bebeau was gracious in defeat, extolling the rollicking atmosphere in an impressively refurbished arena.

“Tonight was exactly what I envisioned when we started this tournament 10 years ago,” he said. “Lebanon played with a lot of grit, and what happened in this building was good, healthy, local competition.

“We thought we were going to win, and it didn’t turn out that way. Maybe that’s good for us in the long run.”

Notes: The game is considered a tie for each side in terms of records and standings. … Rising senior goaltender Davey Bradley was expected to reprise his role as the Hurricanes’ starter this season, but Bebeau said the Orford resident didn’t come out for the team. … Woodstock and Burr & Burton tied Thursday’s consolation game, 3-3, but didn’t stage a shootout in the interest of time. … Bebeau noted that George was one of his physical education students at Hanover last year and that Raiders goaltending coach Jim Mooney was a fellow company member during their time serving in Norwich University’s Corps of Cadets and playing for the school’s hockey team during the 1980s. Many LSM players also attend Bebeau’s preseason skills camp at the WABA. … Paddy Mooney, Jim’s son, said Cashman has reinvigorated practices with a steady stream of fresh drills that all but eliminate standing in line. “This season has made me want to play a lot more,” he said. … Hartford hosts Rutland (0-3-2) on Wednesday and visits Middlebury (4-1) on Saturday. The Raiders host Goffstown (2-1) and visit Timberlane (0-3) on the same days.

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