Bypassing prep-school opportunities, Tommy Royer remained at South Burlington for his senior year. Charles Hall overcame a stress fracture in his back to take the ice 13 times this winter. And junior David Streeter seized the Rebels’ No. 1 goaltender spot just past the midpoint of the regular season.
And with one blistering shot from Matt Baechle, their sacrifices paid off handsomely Wednesday night, putting to bed South Burlington’s nearly two-decade title drought.
Taking Hall’s well-placed pass in the slot, Baechle one-timed a left-handed shot past CVU goaltender Greg Talbert with 5 minutes, 53 seconds left in regulation, the go-ahead tally in top-seeded South Burlington’s 4-2 victory over the Redhawks in the Division I high school boys state championship game.
Baechle’s goal gave the Rebels (21-2) their first title since capturing the 1994 crown in Division II. It’s also South Burlington’s first boys hockey crown as a D-I program, topping its main rival, CVU, in a back-and-forth thriller in front of a packed house.
Baechle also assisted on Gabe Simpatico’s empty-net goal with 30.6 seconds left, sealing the Rebels’ title.
Eric Craig and Connor O’Toole also scored for the Rebels, who held off a determined but young CVU squad that scored tying goals in the second and third periods. But Streeter, who finished with 13 of 17 saves in the last two periods, was a key to the title run, coach Sean Jones said.
“(Streeter) won it for us. Semifinals and finals, he was our rock,” said Jones, in his 11th year at the helm of the SBHS program. “He played steady. He’s not flashy, but he stops everything we need him to stop.”
In the first period, after Royer won a draw, Craig flipped a shot past Talbert for a 1-0 South Burlington lead at 7:40 of the first period. The Redhawks created enough pressure in the build-up, earning a face-off that Craig capitalized on by scoring his 20th goal of the season.
Down 1-0 after the first period, the Redhawks responded with some energy after the intermission. Kirk Fontana supplied the initial rush, weaving through traffic and getting off a shot that went wide. South Burlington was unable to clear, however, and the prolonged shift resulted in a CVU goal.
Fontana, finishing off passes from Hoyt McCuin and Brendan Gannon, knocked in a rebound chance past SBHS goaltender David Streeter, the tying goal 3:15 into the second period.
Weathering CVU’s early push, South Burlington gained back momentum on its first man-advantage of the game. In a scramble in front, Connor O’Toole’s shot squeezed between the legs of Talbert and crossed the goal line for a 2-1 Rebels’ lead with 2:17 left in the period. After a quick discussion with the goal judge, officials confirmed the goal.
Jake Garrett had a tying third-period goal for CVU, and Talbert finished with 18 saves.
Wednesday’s Division I championship was the first finals matchup between South Burlington and Champlain Valley, two schools that share a youth league — the Chittenden-South Burlington association — and hold an annual CSB Cup for bragging rights.
“The whole time during the playoffs I was kind of hoping for this, but I couldn’t look ahead that much,” Baechle said. “After the CSB Cup, both student sections were wild and I knew if we played again here, it would be out of hand.”
The Redhawks, meanwhile, were an outfit that seemed more ready for a title run next year, as coach Mike Murray pointed out in the preseason. However, CVU’s young core started strong and Talbert developed into a steady goalie as the Redhawks never lost back-to-back games this winter and picked off Essex in the semifinals to reach Gutterson.
“I told the guys before, ‘somebody’s got to lose and somebody’s got to win, but the moment we stepping on this ice we’re winners because we did more than we thought we would,'” Murray said. “Hey, we still wanted to win, but we have a great future and I’m proud of the effort — we came close.”
Jones credited CVU for a game plan that tested SBHS.
“CVU is a fantastic team and I think the testament for us is when they had us on our heels, we responded,” Jones said. “They really made us focus on a good defensive game and boy, a bounce here or there and it comes down to a different story.”
But the script played out for the Rebels, a closing chapter Royer and Co. will savor.
“No more unfinished business. It feels so good; if you would have told me in the beginning of the season that I’d be standing here tonight, I don’t know if I’d believe you,” Royer said. “Our team played awesome, every single player gave it their all.
“It feels incredible to be here, holding up our fingers … Number One.”