Lebanon, Hartford to meet in final of holiday hockey tournament

Lebanon's Benjamin Fogg (23) and teammate Keegan Dannehy (20) move towards Woodstock's Griffin Picconi during the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Lebanon won, 4-0.  (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon's Benjamin Fogg (23) and teammate Keegan Dannehy (20) move towards Woodstock's Griffin Picconi during the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Lebanon won, 4-0. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Lebanon celebrates their second goal in the second period with their game against Woodstock during the  Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Lebanon won, 4-0. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon celebrates their second goal in the second period with their game against Woodstock during the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Lebanon won, 4-0. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Lebanon's Mason Ballard brings the puck down during their game with Woodstock at the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Lebanon won, 4-0.  (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon's Mason Ballard brings the puck down during their game with Woodstock at the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Lebanon won, 4-0. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Waiting for their game later in the day, Hartford hockey teammates Frankie Cushing, left, Tighe Hrabchak and Nolan Morlock ask for donations for the school's food pantry between periods during the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. in White River Junction, Vt. The pantry is open to any student who needs it. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Waiting for their game later in the day, Hartford hockey teammates Frankie Cushing, left, Tighe Hrabchak and Nolan Morlock ask for donations for the school's food pantry between periods during the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. in White River Junction, Vt. The pantry is open to any student who needs it. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

During the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament, Woodstock's Kyle Costales and Lebanon's CJ Gogan battle along the boards on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Lebanon won, 4-0. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

During the Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic hockey tournament, Woodstock's Kyle Costales and Lebanon's CJ Gogan battle along the boards on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Lebanon won, 4-0. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-28-2023 12:47 PM

Modified: 12-28-2023 2:23 PM


WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — An ad for automotive tires was plastered on the boards in front of the Lebanon-Stevens-Mascoma boys ice hockey bench Wednesday at Wendell Barwood Arena.

“Grip like never before,” read the graphic.

The Raiders, 4-0 victors over Woodstock in the semifinals of the four-team Philippe H. Bouthillier Holiday Classic, certainly appear to be gaining traction after last season’s results caused concern about the program’s future.

Lebanon (3-2) will face Hartford (4-0) in Thursday’s 7 p.m. final. The Hurricanes beat Burr & Burton, 4-2, in Wednesday’s second semifinal.

The Raiders were 1-19 and dealt with a shrinking roster last winter, so steps were taken to have Mascoma replace Mount Royal Academy in its three-team co-op. Former Hanover assistant Dean Cashman was hired to replace six-year predecessor Jim Damren.

A member of Lebanon’s initial 1978 varsity, Damren stepped down after taking his alma mater to the NHIAA Division III semifinals in 2021 and 2022. Cashman played at Hanover, works in the local banking industry and coached the Upper Valley Storm’s Tier II U14 team last winter, including a quartet of his current players.

Mascoma is contributing three skaters to this season’s squad. Their commitment brought with it several younger Lebanon students who’d played with them in youth hockey, but who might have gone elsewhere had the high school program not changed during the spring. There had been talk of Mascoma joining a co-op with Kearsarge and Plymouth.

“We’re looking at it as a brand-new program with a fresh start,” Cashman said. “There’s been a lot of rejuvenation. Our three seniors have bought into the culture, working their (rear ends) off and making sure the others follow their lead.

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“We’ve said we weren’t going to track success by wins and losses, because we had no idea what we were jumping into.”

The key man after all this shook out is Mascoma’s Mason Ballard, who instantly became one of the Raiders’ best players and who’s transitioning from defense to center. Wednesday, the sophomore assisted on the first goal and potted a breakaway for the third strike.

A smooth and seemingly effortless skater, Ballard has four goals and six assists for a team-high 10 points in five games, but he also took a pair of needless penalties and committed several turnovers against the Wasps (2-3).

The upshot, though, is that LSM is a vastly improved team over LSMR, even after accounting for a move up to Division II, forced by the combined enrollment increase when Mascoma was substituted for Mount Royal, a small Roman Catholic school in Sunapee.

Wednesday’s triumph was needed after Lebanon’s 11-1 thumping at Winnacunnett a week prior. Cashman said his troops were stuck in second gear as the Warriors immediately shifted into overdrive. The Lebanon Hockey Boosters Instagram account, which had cranked out nearly a post a day since the season started, fell silent in the aftermath.

“We weren’t used to that pace,” Cashman said. “Maybe it was a reality check after feeling too good about ourselves.”

Woodstock’s top player, forward Griffin Piconi, appeared to open the scoring three minutes into Wednesday’s game. However, the senior’s shot off the corner created by the crossbar and right post was ruled not to have bounced down and behind the goal line, although the referee making the late ruling appeared confused by what he’d just witnessed.

Less than a minute later, C.J. Gogan gave Lebanon a 1-0 lead, knocking in the rebound of a Jack Clary shot.

“We definitely got some puck luck early and throughout the game,” Cashman said. “We were sloppy during the first and second periods but because of illness, that’s the first time this season we’ve had our full team.”

Paddy Mooney pushed the score to 2-0 four minutes into the second period, unleashing a wicked wrist shot over goaltender Dominic Palazzo’s near-side shoulder as he skated through the left circle. Woodstock took four consecutive penalties during one stretch, hampering its comeback chances.

Lebanon killed off a penalty to start the third period and even scored a shorthanded goal on Ballard’s breakaway, finished with a shot under Palazzo’s blocker and inside the left post. Clary, a senior defenseman who returned to the Raiders this season after choosing to practice with a junior team instead of playing for his school last winter, earned his second assist of the night.

Clary added a goal to his haul with six minutes remaining, smacking home the rebound of Benjamin Fogg’s shot off another breakaway. Palazzo finished with 13 saves amid uneven support from his teammates. Lebanon’s Evan George stopped 16 shots.

Woodstock coach Jon Chamberlain, not an interview chatterbox on the best of nights, was virtually monosyllabic after this one. His team, which features only two seniors, hit three posts and misfired on several other prime scoring chances.

“Both teams made mistakes,” Chamberlain said. “They capitalized on ours and we didn’t capitalize on theirs.”

Piconi was noteworthy, no?

“Yes, but he needs to (pass) to somebody,” Chamberlain said.

What’s holding your team back right now?

“A lot.”

The season's still young, and like the tire ad urges, everyone's trying to get a grip.

Notes: Mooney said he plans to attend Norwich University starting next fall with an eye towards a business degree and perhaps a stint in the military. It’s the alma mater of his father, Jim, who tended goal for the Cadets and volunteers as the Raiders’ goaltending coach… Stevens High is currently represented on the ice by senior Tyler Christian. The other Cardinal, sophomore James Stevens, said he’s likely out for the rest of this season after an Aug. 10 motorcycle crash caused a significant head injury. The wing said he was wearing a helmet at the time but suffered bleeding in his brain… Lebanon outshot the Wasps, 25-24… Hartford beat Woodstock, 7-1, earlier this season.

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