.By JOEL LEHMAN For The Essex Reporter
Despite the ending, BFA-St. Albans was left with plenty of reasons to feel good about the future after its season opener against Essex on Saturday.
The Bobwhites closed a two-goal deficit in impressive fashion against their longtime Metro Division rivals, nearly winning it in regulation with a dominant third period on the road before Hornet senior captain Joey Robertson scored the winner with 27 seconds left in overtime for a 3-2 Essex victory.
Robertson, a three-year varsity player, beat a defender one-on-one and snapped the puck home as he cut in alone on net to give Essex its first win of the season (1-0-1).
The goal came only after a relentless third period of pressure by the Bobwhites, who began to find their legs in the first game of the season midway through, already in a 2-0 hole.
Hunter Kirouac tied the game with 11 minutes left, jumping on a turnover at the blue line, juggling the puck through the defense and beating the keeper. The line of Kirouac, Sam Shorey and Matt Boudreau began to gel as the game wore on, and by the third period was the best line on the ice, creating chances in the Essex end.
But the leadership of Robertson and line-mate Brendan Gleason made the difference.
“It’s our first test as a group. You passed the test. You would’ve maybe wished for a little more luck in overtime. But as far as passing the test, you passed the test,” said BFA coach Toby Ducolon.
Essex scored twice in close to open up a 2-0 deficit. Gleason chopped one in midway through the first, assisted by Robertson, and a slow line change before the end of the first nearly allowed Robertson to score on the rebound off a shot from the point by Jeremy LeClair.
Robertson assisted on Essex’s second goal, too, a power-play tally by Mike Croce, chipped past the goaltender with 7:05 left in the second frame.
BFA’s best pressure came on a dangerous power play at the end of the first period, creating three quality scoring chances, including a shot from the point by Tanner Cioffi deflected off the post by Shorey.
But it wasn’t until Essex scored its second that BFA began to crank up the forecheck and the pressure, and Boudreau scored from Isaac Cioffi and Hayden Fersing less than a minute after the Hornets’ second.
“It’s a good line,” Ducolon said of Shorey, Boudreau and Kirouac. “We’ve got some hard workers. We have some strength there, we have some shooting ability there, we’ve got some creativity there. They generate a fair amount of offense. It’s early, but we’re very happy with those guys there.”
“They were all over us,” said Essex coach Bill O’Neil. “The thing I thought we did well was we defended in our own end. That really was kind of the winner of the game for us.”
Even in a tie game late, the Bobwhites were pinching aggressively at the blue line in the third, and Chad Littlefield nearly had a breakaway from center ice on the transition before he was tripped up, a penalty that may have saved the game. BFA couldn’t score on the power play, but finished the third outshooting Essex 11-3.
“In the first half [of the game] it looked like our first game of the winter,” said Ducolon, whose team’s first scheduled game was postponed. “Second half, I thought we picked it up nicely. I thought we generated some really nice chances. How can you not be happy with the third period?”
It was fitting that Gleason’s pass sprung Robertson in transition, creating the one-on-one highlight-reel move that won the game for Essex. Two of the best players in the state have created problems for the Bobwhites for years, both in hockey and football.
“They’re seniors, they’re three-year players. The thing with that line is they’re starting to move the puck better,” O’Neil said. “They’re finding each other, they go both ways.
“It’s always a great game when we play [BFA]. They battle hard, they beat the crap out of each other, and at the end they shake hands, recognize and respect the other team and move on. That was their first game and I am expecting next time we see them they’re going to be better.”
Joel Lehman is a reporter for The St. Albans Messenger in affiliation with The Essex Reporter.