SPRINGFIELD – In what could have been a Cinderella story for the ages, the Westfield High School boys ice hockey team’s improbable run to a Division 3 state title came to an end Thursday night at the MassMutual Center, as the Western Mass. Champion Bombers (11-11-1) fell to the Central Mass. champion T-Hawks of Algonquin (16-3-5) by a score of 6-2.
Ian Kosovsky scored a pair of goals in a span of 22 seconds in the opening minutes of the third period en route to four T-Hawk tallies in the final frame, and just like that the clock struck midnight on Westfield and its bid for a record-tying fourth state title in Division 3. The Bombers won the state crown in 2003, 2008 and 2013.
“You can’t give up soft goals, and that’s what happened,” Westfield head coach C.B. “Moose” Matthews said. “It just deflates you. Our goaltender made some good saves, and he got us into Western Mass. and we won Western Mass. with him, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
The Bombers looked poised to continue their run through the postseason as they scored the first goal of the night just 4 minutes and 36 seconds into the first period, when Sullivan Webster took a pass from Joshua Adams in front of the net and fired it past T-Hawks goalie Mike Tascione to give Westfield an early 1-0 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as just about 4 minutes later Algonquin’s Joe Sullivan scored the equalizer to tie the score at 1-all.
Both teams struggled to find the back of the net for about half of the second period, with Algonquin failing to capitalize on a power play attempt with 10:59 left in the period, even though they peppered Westfield goalkeeper Cameron Parent with a barrage of shots while the Bombers were shorthanded. With 7:18 left in the period, Sullivan scored again for the T-Hawks, taking a perfect pass from teammate Thomas Ackil across the ice and firing a slap shot past Parent to give Algonquin its first lead of the game, 2-1. The T-Hawks got another chance at a power play with 2:42 left in the second period, but Westfield killed the penalty and looked like they would be heading toward yet another nail-biting finish in the postseason.
Kosovsky, though, had different plans. Just 1:06 into the final frame, he scored to put the T-Hawks up 3-1, and in the blink of an eye just 22 seconds later, he scored again to give Algonquin the commanding 4-1 advantage. Alex DiPadua made the score 5-1 with 10:17 left in the game, and just 56 seconds later, Kevin Reale netted Algonquin’s sixth goal. Postseason hero Liam Whitman, who notched game-winning goals in both games of the Western Mass. tournament to lift Westfield to its ninth Western Mass. Division 3 title in 15 years, scored with 3:26 left in the game to make the score 6-2, but it was too little too late for the Bombers, who watched their dream season come to an end at the hands of an Algonquin team, which itself had been an underdog for most of the postseason.
Matthews credited the T-Hawks for playing great on defense and keeping Westfield from getting good looks on the offensive side of the puck.
“They were muscling us off the puck,” he said. “They’re a little bigger, a little stronger. They’re a big, strong team, and they’ve got a lot of muscle. It’s tough. We play with a lot of heart, but they’re a big, physical team, and I think coming into the third period they just wore us down a little bit. They were the best team we played all year.”
Algonquin will now try to continue its own improbable run when it takes on Southern Mass. champ Hanover (20-3-1) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 20 at the TD Garden in Boston for the Division 3 state championship.
For Matthews, even though he has had teams win Western Mass. championships and state titles, the 2016 Bombers will always hold a special place in his heart.
“This team winning Western Mass. – we weren’t even supposed to be there,” he said. “They came on (late), and we got them ready, and the rest was history. It’s a Cinderella year – that’s what I told them in the locker room. They had one heck of a year, and I told them that they’ll never forget winning Western Mass.”