By ANTHONY LABOR JR.
For the Essex Reporter
BURLINGTON — Wednesday was a familiar sight for Essex hockey fans at Gutterson Fieldhouse for the Division I championship.
The Hornets skated around the rink with the championship trophy in hand with a score of 5-0 up on the scoreboard.
The only difference between this year and last year was the opponent. After topping Spaulding in last year’s final, the top-seeded Hornets picked up where they left off at Gutterson with another 5-0, title-clinching victory, this time at the expense of No. 6 Rice.
“Going back-to-back in the championship and winning them both 5-0 is a great feeling,” said Essex senior Jonah Janaro. “This is a big accomplishment. Growing up, you can’t really ask for much more than this.”
Senior Grady Cram had a hand in all five goals for the Hornets, assisting on the first three goals and scoring the two third-period goals.
It was the most points in a championship game since 1986, when Chuck Wiegand and Craig Dougherty had five points each and Mickey LeBlanc had six in a 10-4 win over North Country, according to Paul Stanfield of the University of Vermont
“You never really think about doing something on such a big stage that hasn’t been done in awhile, but when you hear it, it’s like something you dream of growing up playing hockey,” said Cram.
The Hornets did not allow a goal in three tournament games after Sam Foster made 17 saves for his third straight post-season shutout.
“It’s been a total team effort getting these shutouts throughout the playoffs,” said Foster. “If you look at just today’s game, our penalty kill only let one shot get to me during a five-minute major, so that just shows how much the team in front of me has helped get these three shutouts.”
After the first period, it looked like it might be a tough game, as both teams battled for a scoreless first period with Essex holding an 11-8 shot advantage, with solid chances to score at both ends.
The floodgates opened in the second period, as the Hornets scored three goals to take control.
Janaro (1 goal, 1 assist) got things started for Essex on the power play, as he picked up a loose puck off the glass, skated to the blue line, and fired a wrister that found its way through traffic and inside the post for the 1-0 lead. Cram and Jason Smith picked up assists.
Ian Amaliksen scored later in the second on an almost identical play, and Willem Barwin tipped a shot from Cram just over a minute later to give Essex a 3-0 lead going into the third period.
“Rice came out with great energy and I thought they got us on our heels a little bit, because I don’t think we were expecting their energy and speed,” coach Chris Line said. “In between the first and the second, we just told them to get pucks through traffic at the net and it ended up working out for the first three goals. I think once we saw Jonah put his goal in like that, it was easier for the guys to buy in and just start putting pucks at the net.”
Cram added a pair of goals in the final five minutes of the third to round out the scoring. Tobias Martin and Sam Gibbs picked up assists on Cram’s first goal with Janaro assisting the second.
Essex’s penalty kill was strong. Rice only mustered four shots on net on four power plays, including the 5-minute major early in the third.
“We have really good team speed, especially with our forwards, and we can get on the puck, which makes it difficult for teams to control the puck and it even creates offense for us,” said Line. “Coming into this game, we wanted to be aggressive between the dots and I thought our guys did a great job of that. Especially on their breakout, back-pressuring the puck and not allowing free entry into the zone.”
It was the third title for the Hornets (18-3-2) In the past five years and 16th championship overall.
“I’m just overwhelmed with emotion,” said Cram. “We are a family and being so successful with a team that is your family like this is extremely satisfying.”