Men’s Ice Hockey celebrates after winning the program’s second Northeast-10 Championship Title (image credit: SNHU Penmen).

“We did this for everyone. The crowd (at the Sullivan Arena) was amazing. We love each and every one of our fans. This is everybody’s trophy.” – Captain Chris Moquin

For the first time in five years, and the second time in program history, the Men’s Ice Hockey Team captured the Northeast-10 Championship Title. SNHU (2) defeated Saint Anselm (1) 4-3 at the Sullivan Arena Saturday, March 2.

The championship game marked the 44th meeting between SNHU and Saint Anselm.

Saint Anselm leads its head-to-head record 36-7-1, with four of Saint Anselm’s wins occurring in previous Northeast-10 finals. Their last championship meeting was in 2006 when Saint Anselm defeated SNHU 5-3.

Prior to Saturday’s meeting, SNHU and Saint Anselm faced off three times throughout the 2018-2019 season. Saint Anselm claimed two of the three games, but SNHU executed a 3-1 triumph over them on February 16.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we stuck with it and had a really great week of practice and [the team] put it together,” said Head Hockey Coach Sean Walsh.

Walsh is only in his second year at the helm, and after a crushing loss to Saint Anselm in last year’s Northeast-10 semifinals during his first season with the Penmen, he knew he needed to amp up his players to earn this prestigious title.

“We had to learn from our mistakes and move forward and that’s kind of what we did and I think we did a very good job at staying on task and the ultimate goal was to win,” he said. “Last time we came [to the Sullivan Arena], we beat them and we knew we could beat them here again.”

And they did.

Coach Sean Walsh (center) holds the Northeast-10 Championship trophy after the Penmen defeated Saint Anselm Saturday, March 2 (Northeast-10).

The Penmen dominated the first period. Three Penmen scored and goalie Kurt Gutting (’20) did not allow one puck past him and made 11 saves.

Just 1:04 into the first period, Artem Efimov-Barakov (’19) found the back of the net off a pass from Max Kent (’21). Efimov-Barakov took control of the puck from the top of the left circle and wristed a shot over left the shoulder of Saint Anselm goaltender, Colin Soucy.

The Penmen struck again nearly four minutes later when Joe Fiorino (’22) slipped the puck past Soucy off a pass from Andy Somerville (’22).

“Fiorino is an unbelievable player,” said Somerville of Fiorino’s talent. “He comes over the blue line with a full head of steam and fishes it off to me. I know he’s going to the net and that he’s going to finish ten times out of ten, so I figured I’d get it back to him and let him finish strong.”

SNHU made it 3-0 with just over three minutes remaining in the first period when graduate student and captain Chris Moquin fired a shot from Brett Strawn (’19) into the far post.

“We came out flying,” said Moquin.

The Penmen entered the second period eager to dominate once again. However, the Saint Anselm Hawks started to prove why they have always had an edge over the Penmen.

Saint Anselm jumped onto the scoreboard exactly three minutes into the second when Sean Verrier poked a shot past Gutting. Verrier would strike again for Saint Anselm seven minutes later when he cleared a loose puck past Gutting to bring the score to 3-2.

SNHU found an opportunity to take a two-goal lead just under two minutes later. Fiorino held the puck above the right circle and ripped a shot through Saint Anselm defenders that found the back of the net for his second goal of the game and fifth of the season. His goal was unassisted.

Saint Anselm was not finished scoring in this period, though, as Trey Aiello knocked in a rebound off an initial shot by Liam O’Sullivan to bring the Hawks within one goal of tying the game.

With this tremendous comeback from the Hawks, The Penmen needed to regroup before entering the third period.

They headed to the locker room where Walsh told his players to “leave it all out there” and “just spill your guts.” He also told them to “play with their heads, their hearts and their feet.”

They came out of the locker room strong, especially defensively. Defense from both SNHU and Saint Anselm was so aggressive that neither team added to the scoreboard.

Therefore, Fiorino’s second-period goal proved to be the game winner.

When the final buzzer blared, the Penmen threw their sticks and helmets in the air and piled on top of Gutting as they celebrated their second championship win and first-ever win over the Hawks in championship games.

“I’m just happy we won,” said an ecstatic Fiorino after the game. “I’m just happy I was able to help the team win. It means everything to me. It feels amazing, especially for the seniors; I love them to death.”

Fiorino’s two goals vs the Hawks were his fourth and fifth of the season.

“[We’re] committed to getting better every single day and that’s the key and it translated onto the ice during this game,” added Somerville. “The actions were all there and it was all due to hard work.”

Goaltender Kurt Gutting holds his “Most Valuable Player” award during the post-game celebration (Northeast-10).

In the post-game ceremony, Gutting was recognized as the game’s “Most Outstanding Player” by the Northeast-10. He made 37 total saves (11 in the first period, 19 in the second period and seven in the third period) and allowed only three goals. Gutting was also crowned the Northeast-10 Goaltender of the Year on February 21.

“It’s amazing,” said Gutting about receiving the “Most Outstanding Player Award.” “I couldn’t do it without the defenseman on our team. They help me out so much, picking up sticks, just keeping shots to the outside, so a lot of credit to them. It’s an awesome feeling.”

With the win, Walsh wins his first major championship of his career as head coach. He said it couldn’t have been done, however, without the amazing group of Penmen he’s had the privilege of coaching.

“[The players] wanted to be taught and learn the right way,” he said. “They wanted to be coached. You can’t underestimate the size of their hearts. I think I got dealt a pretty big hand and all the hard work we put in paid off really big for us.”

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