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After some memorable stops, the Tourney Trail goes cold

By Tom King - Staff Writer | Mar 22, 2020

Telegraph photo by TOM KING Bishop Guertin's Luke Vogel, left, and Sam Cronin react to the final buzzer of the Cards' Divison I semifnals loss at the hands of Bedford at Manchester's JFK Coliseum. It was not only the end of the Cards' otherwise good season, it was the final local winter tournament event thanks to the coronavirus, and the final stop on the Tourney Trail.

The Trail went cold a lot sooner than it should have.

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic provided a scary,premature shutdown of the 2019-20 winter high school Tourney Trail. There was really no option for the NHIAA.

However, we had just over a week of very, very memorable moments. So, before the Trail hit a dead end, let’s tell you, as we always love to do after every tournament season, about all the stops we made:

TUESDAY, MARCH 3

TRI-TOWN ARENA, HOOKSETT

The first stop was perhaps the most insightful one, the Division I preliminary round girls hockey game between No. 9 Bishop Guertin against No. 8 Bishop Brady-Trinity-West in the late afternoon.

Tri-Town has a nice little deck-type area at each end of one of its two sheets of ice, perfect for photos. But it was also perfect for a host of administrators from all four schools involved to hang out. And what do you think they were talking about? The protocols that may be need to be put in place, among other things, related to the coronavirus. Yes, it was beginning to be a big topic three weeks ago, but no one expected all this. Oh, the BG girls, who had a team we feel might have been able to win it all, took control at the start in this one, winning handidly 5-2 behind two goals and an assist from Julie McLaughlin. Four days earlier they had lost to the same team in the regular season finale. “We definitely played a lot better and supported each other,” McLaughlin said. The Cards later that week went up to face top seed Concord, and nearly pulled off the upset. Remember, they had lost to both Concord and Hanover by just one goal each during the regular season.

HOLLIS BROOKLINE HIGH SCHOOL

Two stops on this day, with the No. 2 Hollis Brookline girls basketball team winning a Division II prelim over Manchester West easily, 48-24. Both in the regular season meeting and in this game, ironically, West had early moments when it looked like it would make it a game. This time was a 9-0 run in the first quarter, but by halftime it was 31-14 Cavs. Great game for Liz Bonnette, who had 15 points on five 3-pointers after missing the tourney last year with an injury.

After the game, Cavs coach Bob Murphy had some interesting words about facing the winner of No. 6 Bishop Brady vs. No. 11 Merrimack Valley.

“I’m almost hoping it’s Merrimack Valley,” Murphy said.

Remember that as we move down the trail.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4

SKATE 3 ARENA, TYNSBOROUGH, MASS.

Didn’t take the Islanders Suite this year, which proved to be a great spot last year thanks to the help of rink manager Donna Conley. No, the Bishop Guertin-Bow Division I prelim was played early enough, 7ish, that we could write, etc. after the game away from the rink and still make deadline. In fact, that night was the first time yours truly saw Conley all season. “Where have you been?” she asked. “Do you need to go upstairs?”

The No. 6 Cards cruised,6-2, over the faster but smaller Bow team, which lacked a third line and ran out of gas. Guertin was down 1-0 after the first period but scored five unanswered in the second and it was over. The Cards had six different goal scorers and were moving on to the quarters vs. No. 3 Exeter.

“We’re feeling pretty good right now,” Cards senior forward Pat Madden said. “It’s playoffs, we think we can have a really good game at Exeter.”

He was right on with that, as you will soon see.

FRIDAY, MARCH 6

HOLLIS BROOKLINE HIGH SCHOOL

Back to HB for one of the more memorable tournament games – and unfortunately for the Cavs, upsets – that we’ve seen. Remember, three years earlier HB went up to Concord and knocked off Brady in the Division II girls hoop quarterfinals. But on this night, Brady returned the favor in this year’s quarters, 70-62.

What was remarkable about this game was the fact the Cavs dominated the first two-plus periods, leading 38-20 late in the first half. But the warning light went up when Brady ended the half with a 5-0 run.

“They made a run, and we came in (to the locker room) and reenforced that you’ve got to get out on the 3’s, and they started hitting them (eight in total),” Murphy said. “Launching them and hitting them. … We allowed that end of the first half run. That really got to me, anyway. Made me nervous.”

Ironically, Murphy wasn’t thrilled about the semis having to be held all the way up at Dartmouth College (HB would have played Spaulding). And then the semis got moved to Pinkerton Academy because Dartmouth shut down due to the coronavirus.

The game also marked the end of an era. Classy Cavs senior guard Christina Balsamo looked in disbelief after the game, her brilliant high school hoop career done despite a 24-point effort. “I’m shocked in just the fact that it’s over,” she said, willing to briefly talk despite the huge disappointment. Tough ending, but at least she and the her teammates didn’t have to go through the disappointment of having a tourney cancelled.

SATURDAY, MARCH 7

PHILLLIPS EXETER ACADEMY, EXETER

Exeter likes to use this facility whenever it’s available for hockey, and this was the big BG-Exeter Division I quarterfinal matinee. Tough to find, but yours truly, despite not being a big GPS user (yes we know, we know) drove by and saw the Guertin bus in the distance near an athletic building. Found it. A beautiful facility. And a great crowd. And, a fantastic game, spent mainly by yours truly down against the glass by the goal BG eventually scored in sudden death OT for a remarkable 4-3 win. It was a great goal by Sean Kelley, but the player of the game in these eyes was BG’s Mike Kiely, who zipped down left win and fed the trailer, Kelley, with a great centering pass. Kiely had sent the game into overtime with a goal from the right wing side midway through the third period. Another big hero was Cards goalie Evan Butler, who stoned the Blue Hawks’Kole Robinson inside of two minutes left in regulation. Yours truly spent most of the game next to BG principal Jason Strniste, who makes it a point to be at as many extra curricular and athletic events the school has that he can possibly be at. Of course he had some crowd control duties as well, but this humble scribe told him in the third period, as the Blue Hawks were skating all over the place, “I’d be shocked if you guys won this game.”

Oops.

BISHOP GUERTIN COLLIGADOME

Anothe tourney twinbill. Back in time for a 7 p.m. Division I girls quarterfinal between the heavily favored Cards and upstart No. 8 Concord. The two teams did not play during the regular season and a day or two beforehand BG coach Brad Kreick was a little nervous because of the Crimson Tide’s height. It was a minor factor as Guertin broke loose for a 60-24 win. It was so typical of this BG team, some slow times (only 29-16 at the half) but then you look up at the scoreboard and see how dominant they were. In fact, yours truly didn’t even notice until long after the game that Guertin pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter.Erin Carney had 14 points along with fellow senior Addison Smith, while Bri Wilcox had 12. The fourth senior – senior No. 5 Aria O’Connell had been done two months ago due to a knee injury – Hannah Muchemore did not play. She hadn’t since pulling up lame on a layup attempt in the game couple of weeks earlier against Massachusetts power Franklin. Muchemore came out and warmed up with a sleeve on her bad leg and uniform top, but it was obvious she wasn’t going to play. She may have in the semis, but the injury was to her knee, so who really knows – although Kreick said she practiced fully a couple of days later.

But it was all for naught. Guertin was to face Bedford in the semis, as upsets filled the other bracket (Londonderry over Merrimack, Goffstown over Memorial). Kreick was thrilled he got good playing time from his crew of freshmen, who will be the program’s foundation next year. “Those freshmen really stepped up big,” Kreick said. “Gave us huge minutes in the second quarter when we sat both Bri and Addie both down (with two fouls each). It’s always been our rule: two fouls, and we’re going to sit you until the second half. Kids don’t always love it.”

Hey, that’s something we didn’t know. But there was a lot we weren’t going to know down the road.

“It was definitely bittersweet playing her for the last time,” Guertin’s Carney said.

Little did she know it would be the last time, period.

After the game, Guertin AD Pete Paladino, assistant AD Steve Duprat, school president Linda Brodeur and Strniste sat on the front row of the bleachers, just winding down and babysitting this humble scribe as he finished his story. It was a long day for all; Paladino had to monitor a middle school cheerleading event that had all sorts of mishaps (fire alarm, etc.); Duprat and Strnte were at Exeter earlier. The only thing missing was Megan Duprat’s (Steve’s wife) fantastic Buffalo chicken dip that was the hit of the Fall Tourney Trail. Maybe in the spring – if there is a spring.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11

THE FINAL STOP:

JFK COLISEUM, MANCHESTER

By this time, the coronavirus scare was building incredible steam. Hollis Brookline two nights earlier had postponed a boys basketball tourney game due to a school district employee being tested (but test was negative).

But two nights later the concern didn’t keep fans away from the Division I boys hockey semis, with BG set to face Bedford in the nightcap in yet another tourney meeting between the two (2016 finals, 2017 semis). Earlier, Concord toyed with Trinity in a 6-1 semifinal win. The stands weren’t completely packed, but fans did crunch up in corners against the glass. Today the CDC would not have been happy. And not about the crowded press box, either. You see all types of media at the hockey semis that you rarely see all year. Just an observation.

The Cards and the Bulldogs were knotted 2-2 after two, and it just felt like overtime. Yours truly was wrong again. Bedford went on to take a 3-2 lead on an early Cam Wasylak goal in the final period, the second of his two. They more more or less cruised the rest of the way to a 5-2 win.

The next hour or so was telling. Afterward, Bedford coach Marty Myers asked yours truly if he was going to be at what would’ve been a great final with Concord. “I doubt it, I’ll have Guertin girls hoop duty if they get past the semis,” came the answer. Nope.

But the coronavirus was already on this mind. Going into the BG dressing room to talk in the little area just outside it, the door could be opened via a shoulder push, but after talking with BG coach Gary Bishop, there was no tissue, etc. to grab the doorhandle to leave. Ah, notebook paper.

And then, Strnste was among the crowd waiting for the players. “Going tomorrow night? (to the girls semis in Exeter),” he asked. Of course the answer was yes. He extended his hand instinctively, and we balked. He laughed but understood.

Upon going back to the press box to insert the postgame quotes into the story and then email, a text came from a colleague.

“The NBA has cancelled its season!” it said.

Well, not exactly, but it certainly pulled the plug for a good long while.

On the way out, we thanked the JFK rink attendant,who was getting ready to lock up.We let him know there was one other writer left in the box. “He better hurry,” he said. “I’m getting out of here soon.”

Probably just a short time later, the doors were locked, and perhaps for a long, long time. The next day, tourneys postponed. The next day, suspended. And then last Monday, cancelled.

The Trail – as fun and eventful as it was — came to an abrupt end and a whole new world awaited.

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, tking@nashuatelegraph.com., or @Telegraph_TomK.

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