Hockey: Top-Seeded Avon Hosts #8 Brunswick in Elite Eight Quarterfinals

With one week left in the season, Brunswick seemed doomed for the Large School tournament for the second year in a row On the very last weekend of the season, however, they sprung into the Elite Eight with an Empire Cup title. Now their eyes are set on a quarterfinals upset. Only one thing stands in their way – the top-seeded Avon Old Farms Winged Beavers.

The Bruins had been in the Elite Eight bubble the first half of the season. They finally snagged the eighth seed in January, which they held for five weeks, only to lose it to Cushing with one week left in the season. This did not discourage the Bruins, though.

Brunswick’s head coach, Ron VanBelle, identified the source of his team’s resilience, “Our senior leadership was great all year long and the final weekend was no exception. My eight seniors were the key to winning the Empire Cup and ultimately getting us an Elite Eight bid.”

One difference between this game and the Empire Cup is pretty obvious, but absolutely vital to understanding how different today will be from last weekend – they were not playing against Avon before. Those opponents were not of the same caliber as the Winged Beavers. In fact, their Empire Cup opponents, Albany Academy and Trinity-Pawling have a combined 0-3 record vs Avon and have been outscored 15-5 in those three match-ups.

Avon’s hockey program has enjoyed a great deal of success over the years, but there has been a dry spell in the past few. This is the first time since 2012 that AOF has made the Elite Eight, which means there is some pressure on them. Avon locked up the #1 seed with an impressive 3-1 win over Loomis Chafee this past Saturday. They proved their ability to play under pressure. AOF’s head coach, John Gardner, is confident in his team’s ability to win the big games, “We have played in many tough games this year, so by now we should be pretty battle tested.”

AOF and Brunswick have not met at any point this season. Coach VanBelle thinks that helps ‘Wick’s chances: “I think that works in our favor since we are not battling past demons. My guys are going into this game knowing we are the underdogs, but we are optimistic since we know we have nothing to lose and we have the type of team that could pull off this upset.”

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Brunswick goalie, Brian Ketchabaw ’16, watches the puck go wide of his net. http://www.wickpics.org/p926936274/h676958e7#h676958e7

As the Bruins are aware, playing at Avon comes with an intense crowd. Coach VanBelle is expecting a large turnout for the Avon faithful, “We know it will be a tough place to play; the Avon fans will be many in number and they will be boisterous, which will make for a great playoff environment.” He does not expect, however, that this will affect the Bruins’ play: “We are preparing for this game like we would any other, and even though this game will have high emotion, we need to simply play the brand of hockey that got us here. That is the message we are giving to the boys.”

Gardner weighed in on the home-ice advantage, “You always want home ice but the only real advantage that you gain is the last change to get the match-ups you want. The fans are great, but they don’t score goals.”

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Avon celebrates a goal. https://avonoldfarms.smugmug.com/Athletics/Avon-vs-Choate/i-TqG5gZG/A

Although the Winged Beavers are favored, they are taking nothing for granted. “Brunswick is a very good defensive team as evidenced by their small goals against average,” Gardner analyzed. On the season, the Bruins have conceded 1.6 goals per game, whereas Avon’s goals against average is 1.84. What remains to be seen is whether or not this defense will be able to shut down arguably the best offensive team in New England.

Six Winged Beavers have notched at least a point per game, Patrick Harper ’16 (who has over two points per game), Jamie Armstrong ’16, Jake Witkowski ’16, Tyler Madden ’18, Adam Karashik ’16, and Ben Mirageas ’16. Avon’s scoring is distributed among many players, which will be hard to defend. Shutting a line down is one thing, shutting down four lines is a tougher task.

Is an upset in the works? Will Avon continue their dominance? In the words of John Gardner, “only time will tell” the outcome of this one, and New England can hardly wait. Stay tuned to @PrepSportReport for live updates.


Featured Photo Sources:

https://avonoldfarms.smugmug.com/

http://www.wickpics.org/athletics