WINDHAM — The moment will forever be ingrained in Max Daly’s mind.

In desperation, with a puck flying in from his left, Daly stretched his right leg as far as it would go, and felt the puck clang off the tip of his skate and away from the net.

A teammate cleared the puck, the final second ran out, and Windham hockey was 2015-16 New Hampshire Division 2 champ.

“I felt the puck hit my toe and just go to the right,” remembered Daly. “Then it was a huge relief. After playing in that game, I had played in the biggest game you could play in and won. Everything seems easier after that.”

Two seasons later, Daly has often made it look easy in net for Windham. And he has been at his dominant best this winter.

The senior goalie heads into the weekend with five shutouts and a stellar 1.00 goals-against average (12 goals allowed in 12 games).

Behind his lead, the Jaguars (13-3-0 overall) are tied for the best record in New Hampshire Division 2 at 11-2-0, sharing the top spot with Goffstown. The two teams will meet for the only time this season on Feb. 24, the regular season finale for both.

“Most of the seniors on this team have been on varsity since freshman season,” said Daly. “We felt like this was our year to make a run at a championship. We’ve matched up well with everyone, and we think it could be a special season.”

Jaguars coach Shawn Dunn said much of his team’s success has been thanks to the work of his goalie.

“Having Max in net gives our team and defense an extra level of confidence,” said Dunn. “ His calm demeanor and ability to track the puck allows him to always be in position. Couple that with his ability to control rebounds and cover everything and he can shut down another team.”

Finding his role

Daly grew up playing in the Methuen Youth Hockey Association, because Windham did not have a youth hockey program. He started as a defenseman, but from the moment he tried goalie he was in love.

“When I was 7-years-old I was on a team where everyone had to try goalie,” Daly said. “From the first time, I loved it, and I was pretty good. I love being that last line of defense. If they beat me, it’s a goal. I love that.”

As a freshman, Daly saw time as Windham’s backup goalie. His first start was 29-save performance in a 4-2 win over Winnacunnet.

“It was very, very nerve-wracking,” he remembered. “I was facing kids who were 18-years-old. But that win really built my confidence. I knew I could help my team.”

Becoming a champion

Daly emerged as co-starting goalie as a sophomore, splitting time with Christian Bassi. It was Bassi that started and won the New Hampshire Division 2 semifinal. But Daly earned the start for the 2015-16 state title game.

“I had no idea who would play until the night before the game,” remembered Daly. “Our coach at the time (Gerry Manchester) texted us the starting lineup and that’s how I found out. I was so excited. You want to play in the biggest game of the year. I was so nervous, but very excited.”

Daly ended up making 20 saves — including the dramatic stop with 30 seconds left — and Windham beat Bow 4-3 for the program’s first title.

“The last minute was crazy,” he remembered. “We were up by a goal with 30 seconds left. The other team won the faceoff and got a good shot. But I barely saved it with my toe. The celebration was amazing.”

Varsity stalwart

Daly continued to shine as starting goalie last winter for a Jaguars squad that finished 13-6-1. Daly was a New Hampshire Division 2 All-Star honorable mention.

Now a senior, Daly opened the 2017-18 season with a bang. He shut out Lebanon in the Jags’ season-opener, and followed that by blanking Bishop Brady.

Daly has not allowed more than two goals in any of his 12 starts, and allowed one or fewer goals in seven contests. Backup Andoni Tsoukalas has appeared in four games.

“I’m a lot more confident in goal than I used to be,” said Daly. “I’m a technical goalie. I don’t make the crazy saves. I keep my technique under control. And when I make the big save, it feels amazing.”

Daly now believes his Jaguars can make a run at another state title.

“I think everyone’s been playing their best and we are exactly where we want to be,” he said. “We don’t want to lose another game. We have a good chance to do something special, and a championship would be a great way to end my high school career.”

Father and son

It was a big day for Merrimack College hockey recruit and New Hampton star Michael Kesselring, the son of former Pinkerton Academy head coach Casey Kesselring.

Michael, a defenseman, scored the game-winning goal with 1:30 left as New Hampton (16-9-3) upset powerhouse Kimball Union (21-5-1).

Casey, the coach at New Hampton, Tweeted after the game, “Special senior day for me today! Getting to coach Michael has been challenging at times but wouldn’t change a thing!”

Breakout day

Timberlane’s Jack Heckman scored four goals in a win over Sanborn last week. It was a breakout performance for the senior center, who had scored just one goal on the season.

Shannon on fire

Andover freshman Lily Shannon’s four goals in a Acton-Boxboro gave her 12 for the season. That is tops among players from the local area.

With the win, Andover rose to No. 8 in the Hockey Night in Boston Division 1 polls. Methuen/Tewksbury, at 14-1-0 with its lone loss to Andover, is No. 3 in the rankings. HPNA is not ranked.

Fab 5

1. Central Catholic 16-1-0

2. Andover 7-3-2

3. Pinkerton 9-3

4. North Andover 10-4-2

5. Windham 13-3-0

Honorable Mention: Methuen (7-5-2), Salem (6-6-2)

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David Willis is a sportswriter/videographer. Contact him at DWillis@eagletribune.com or @DWillisET

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