Gunnery Wins 2017 Avon Christmas Classic
As Winter Break began December 13, the Boys Varsity Hockey team switched gears and hit the ice for practice in preparation for the 35th Annual Avon Old Farms Christmas Classic.
The following afternoon, the team embarked on their journey to Avon, where they prepared for their first game of the tournament at 7 p.m. vs. Trinity-Pawling.
The sounds as you walk into the barn fully packed with fans, scouts and other teams create a competitive environment charged with the excitement of each game and the question of who will win. All of this culminates in one of the best high school hockey experiences in the country. Avon Old Farms, St. Pauls, Kent and Tabor represent one division facing off against The Gunnery, Berkshire, Trinity-Pawling, and Loomis Chaffee. All are competing for one goal: to win the Avon Christmas Classic.
As the puck dropped at 7 p.m. sharp, The Gunnery, which was previously ranked #7, and Trinity-Pawling, ranked #8 in United States Hockey Report’s (USHR) first poll, battled for the first 25 minutes with only one score from Trinity-Pawling to put the Lions up 1-0. Both goaltenders were sharp as each of them gave up minimal scoring chances. As the second half was underway, the Lions put home another goal to take a 2-0 lead. Shortly after, Highlander sophomore Alex Coady took the puck end to end, making a few unbelievable moves all the way to the goalie before sliding the puck past him to cut the lead in half. With hard work and smart playing, Gunnery senior Marc Gatcomb scored minutes later to even up the score at 2-2. Both teams played hard as regulation time and a five-minute overtime period ended in a 2-2 tie. Based on NEPSAC rules, the game counts as a tie; for tournament play the game continued in a shootout competition for the best of three rounds. The Gunnery took the win as Gatcomb and senior Albert Washco scored on beautiful plays. Junior goalie JP Mella gave Trinity-Pawling players no room to score as he closed the door on both of their opportunities.
The Gunnery continued round robin play on December 16 with two games against Berkshire (at 9 a.m.) and Loomis (at 5 p.m.). As the second game of the tournament began, The Gunnery took the momentum from the win the night before and got off to a 1-0 lead within the first 10 minutes. Senior and team captain Zach Pellegrino made a shorthanded goal, accepting a beautiful pass from junior linemate Riley Brennan. The Highlanders scored three more goals: two from sophomore Mark D’Agostino as he executed two really nice moves right in front of the net, and a point shot from junior Niko Ioannou, which lead the team past Berkshire 4-0. Washco had two assists, Brennan, Gatcomb, and sophomores Jimmy Rayhill and Jake Di Girolamo each had one. Senior Nick Vankka was steady in the net as he stopped all 23 shots to record the shutout vs. Berkshire.
In the third game of the weekend, The Gunnery scored seven goals from six different players as they defeated Loomis just a few hours after Berkshire. Goals from Pellegrino, sophomore Hunter Sansbury, junior Max DeBeradinis (2), junior Arty Lapiks, junior Aiden Edwards, and Gatcomb led the highlanders to a 7-3 win. Assists on the goals included Lapiks (3), R. Brennan (2), Washco (2), Ioannou (2), D’Agostino, Edwards, Rayhill, and junior Mason Beecher.
The Highlanders completed round robin play with a 3-0 record and earned themselves a spot in the championship game. In 35 years of tournament play, The Gunnery has been in the championship game five times while only winning once in 2008.
As their sixth appearance went underway on December 16 at 3:30 pm., The Gunnery matched up against Kent. The Highlanders suffered a loss of 5-2 to Kent just five days earlier. It was a different story this time, as both teams came out playing physical and fast. Kent capitalized on a chance midway through the second period on a great shot below the circles. After two periods of play, Kent had a 1-0 lead.
The Highlanders came out in the third flying and dominating play and they quickly tied up the score off of wrist shot by Gatcomb that went right by their goalie. The Gunnery dominated the rest of the game as the Kent goaltender stood on his head to shut them out. Regulation ended in a 1-1 tie and so did the first five minutes of overtime. For NEPSAC play, the game is considered a tie, but the tournament needed a winner. After talking with officials and coaches, the tournament director decided to clean the ice, giving the players another intermission before playing an 18-minute double overtime period. Immediately following the face-off, senior forward and captain Pellegrino hit the puck deep into Kent’s zone right from the drop of the puck. Kent immediately went back on their heels as the Highlander forwards put the pressure on. Just 18 seconds later Pellegrino drove home a rebound giving The Gunnery its second Avon Christmas Classic championship win in 35 years. Mella, Gunnery’s goaltender, was the MVP of the tournament as he stopped 79 of 85 shots over the course of weekend.