Rematch of 2011 final set for Thursday. By Kelly March The Essex Reporter .
Essex booked a ticket to the Division I boys’ hockey championship for the first time since 2011 with a 5-2 win against sixth-seeded North Country in semifinals on Saturday.
With goals from senior Jon Palmer (two), sophomore Austin Theriault and senior Steve Morse, Essex jumped to a 4-0 lead before North Country (13-8-1) cut its deceit to two in the third period. Then junior Joey Robertson tacked on one last tally for the second-seeded Hornets (15-5-1). Sophomore goaltender Eric Short preserved the three-goal win with 27 saves.
The championship game at UVM’s Gutterson Fieldhouse on Thursday will be a rematch of the 2011 final, when Champlain Valley edged the Hornets, 1-0. The top-seeded Redhawks (19-1-2) advanced to the big game with a 2-1 semifinal win over fourth-seeded Colchester (14-8) on Monday night and enter the game looking to avenge their title loss to South Burlington last season.
The championship showdown will mark the third time this winter the two top-ranked Metro powers have faced off, with Essex falling 5-1 in the first bout on Jan. 18 and the two teams playing to a scoreless draw in their regular season finale on Feb. 19.
“Our plan was to get better as the year when on,” Essex head coach Bill O’Neil said on Tuesday morning. “When we hit CVU the second time we were better than the first time and when we hit them a third time we hope to be better than the second.
“I always tell the kids it boils down to two things: play smart and play hard,” he added. “If you do those two things, you have to let the chips fall where they may.”
The championship game is slated to kick off at 8 p.m. Admittance will cost $7 for adults and $4 for students and seniors.