MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Nine seconds. That was all it took for St. Mark's needed to lay claim to a second consecutive NEPSAC Piatelli/Simmons (Small School) championship.
Ethan Kimball's quick strike goal proved to be the difference in giving the No. 2 Lions a 3-2 overtime victory over Rivers Sunday inside Thomas F. Sullivan Arena.
"We said going into the overtime that we wanted to move the puck up quick and continue to skate wide," said St. Mark's head coach Carl Corazzini, his team completing the season at 23-6-1. "We were keeping things wide the whole game which had been successful for us. Ethan is one of our fastest guys and that was a great shot by him. He has a strong work ethic and is certainly a Division 1 prospect."
Kimball's score was set up after St. Mark's center Peter Housakos won the center face-off, in which the puck skidded over to Mike Nantais. The junior defenseman immediately dished off a pass over to Kimball, who streaked uncovered into the Red Wings zone. The Holden native blazed down the left side before unleashing a slap shot from the left circle that flew past goaltender Aiden Porter (21 saves). The shot came so hard and so fast that Porter had zero time to react.
"It was nice to skate in freely like that and that was my shot," said Kimball, a junior notching his 21st goal of the season. "This is the best moment of my life. I couldn't ask for anything more."
In a contest dominated by defense, things were looking good for the top-seeded Red Wings (22-6-4) following Tony Andreozzi's power play goal, coming at 14:34 of the third period, to put Rivers up 2-1. Playing 4 on 3, Andreozzi, a Brown commit, lifted a shot from the left dot that eluded goaltender Ryan Ferland, who finished with 13 saves.
With time winding down, and the Lions now in desperation mode, Ferland was pulled for the extra attacker. The extra man opportunity paid dividends for St. Mark's when Nantais blasted a shot from just inside the blue line through traffic that found its way into the back of the net to square things at 16:47, forcing overtime.
"It was an emotional tie for us," Kimball said. "Mike made a great shot and we came out in the overtime period thinking any shot is a good shot. Fortunately for me, I was able to place my shot where I wanted to. This win speaks for the resiliency of our group. We have a great bunch of seniors who kept us going on the bench. I think this win puts St. Mark's back on the map."
The title marks the third for the Lions, having won it last season as well as taking home a New England Division 2 crown in 1992.
For Rivers, this was its second overtime game in the past 24 hours. On Saturday, the Red Wings edged past Dexter 3-2 in the semifinals. However this time, they could not close the deal. Rivers was looking for its first championship since winning a Division 2 crown in 1985.
"Give St. Mark's credit," Red Wings head coach Shawn McEachern said. "They made a great play to win it and are a good team. They were able to make some good plays down the stretch to win it. I'm proud of my kids and the effort they gave today and throughout the season. It was a lot of fun."
With the game knotted 1-1 after the initial period, the middle frame played out rather conservatively as neither club could find the back of the net. The Red Wings did have two power play opportunities but failed to convert on either one. In all, they went 0-for-5 with the man-advantage. The best scoring chance for either team in the period came midway through when Peter Housakos' re-direct was stopped by goaltender Aiden Porter.
"Rivers does such a good job defending and they collapse in front of their net," Corazzini said. "Because of that, we couldn't throw pucks away. We took a lot of time possessing the puck and took time taking our shots. I thought our kids did a great job as far as that was concerned."
Both teams traded goals in the opening period. A Lions turnover, from inside their own zone, led to Brandan Hamblet's uncontested tally at 14:59, giving Rivers the lead. But less than a minute later, Sacred Heart bound Zach Tsekos, left alone in front, took a pass from Kimball and fired a hard wrist shot by Porter.