MANCHESTER, N.H. — With the first trip to the state championship in program history within reach, No. 3 Londonderry hockey pushed No. 2 Manchester Central to the limit for 45 minutes, including a pair of shots on goal in the final seconds of regulation.
But both shots were sent wide, and Central scored an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds left to clinch a 3-1 victory over the Lancers in the New Hampshire Division 1 state semifinals last night at the JFK Rink in Manchester.
“Hockey is a game about momentum,” said Londonderry coach Peter Bedford. “When you have the opportunities there in front of you, it is about how you respond. When you miss a few opportunities, it creates a tough situation, and we couldn’t capitalize on a few.”
It was the Lancers’ second trip to the state semifinals in three seasons, but they again fell short of their goal of reaching the championship game for the first time since beginning varsity play in 2000-01.
“I think we got a little sloppy,” said Bedford.
“We were playing very tight, because I think the guys were very nervous. But we only graduate four guys from this year’s team, so I think we can have a squad that is ready to go next season.”
Central opened the scoring 2:05 into the second period on a goal by Devon Sprague.
But the Lancers wasted no time responding.
Just 10 seconds after the score, Londonderry’s Mike Dolan took a pass in front from John Gomes and scored to tie the game 1-1.
Manchester Central was able to grab the lead back exactly two minutes into the third, but could not add to the advantage thanks to tremendous play by Lancers netminder Joe McGrath.
McGrath made 24 saves on the night, with 10 coming in the final 10 minutes of play.
That included a split save on a breakaway and then a nice butterfly stop just moments later.