BOSTON — The Bulldogs put up a great fight on Sunday afternoon but the bigger, faster Shrewsbury Colonials took home a 3-1 win at the state championships at TD Garden.
Although the loss was tough for the Old Rochester/Fairhaven hockey players, head coach Eric Labonte said he was proud of his team.
“It’s a storybook ending. Obviously you want to win the state finals, but no one expected us to be here. It’s a really great ride for these players that they’ll never forget,” he said.
The guys had their sights on the Garden before their first game, getting T-shirts made to wear under their uniforms that read “100 Legends Way,” the stadium’s address.
“The road to the Garden has been their theme for the entire season. They achieved that, now take the pressure off, go out there, play your best hockey,” said Athletic Director Bill Tilden before the game. “I think this is the team that’s going to make us play our best all year.”
Wearing red, the Bulldogs’ fans were many, and as the game got underway the nervousness was palpable, but Lori Labonte said, “the whole team was really positive going into today.”
She would know. As the mother of varsity players Zakary and Tayber Labonte and the wife of the head coach, she’s had a front row seat all season.
“This is his dream to come here,” she said of her husband.
In the first period, the Bulldogs kept the Colonials at bay, with goalie Chase Cunningham never taking his eye off the puck. Neither team scored, but the real battle began in the second period.
“I was actually happy with the first period,” said coach Labonte. “Our goal was really to keep everything in front of us. Then, they exposed us in the second period.”
He said the defense was strained and Shrewsbury wore his players out.
“We were out there with band-aids on trying to make it work,” Labonte said. “Yeah we got run down.”
Shrewsbury scored twice in the second period and a third time in the first minute of the third. ORR quickly answered with a goal by team captain Sam Henrie. But, despite a number of tries, the Bulldogs couldn’t manage to get on the board again.
Said Labonte, “I think at the end of the day, how tired our legs were cost us on the power play. We were all thumbs out there. It felt like we weren’t patient enough on the power plays.”
Overall, Labonte said there are some things that need to change in the league. As part of Division 3 South, the Bulldogs played six games post season, compared to four for Shrewsbury. He said the extra games cost him some players as a few of his athletes were injured, including his son Zackary, who broke his collarbone during a matchup with Dartmouth.
Additionally, Labonte said, while the two schools are both D3, they aren’t drawing from the same size pool.
“They’ve got two thousands kids in their school,” he said. “If you’ve got sixty kids trying out for your hockey team, how hard is it to find fifteen hockey players? I had nineteen kids try out for my team this year.”
That his guys made it this far “is almost a miracle.”
Labonte was also quick to acknowledge that Shrewsbury was a formidable team: “They’re better than us. They outplayed us. They deserved to win.”
The coach also had positive things to say about his players. Among those he highlighted was Henrie, calling him a “one man forecheck.”
He also praised Landon Goguen: “He’s probably the most patient, smartest kids I’ve ever coached in twenty-three years of high school hockey.”
While the loss was emotional, both of Labonte’s sons said making it to the Garden was amazing. Both have played since they were 3 years old, coached by their father all along the way.
“He told me it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and just to take in the atmosphere and have fun,” said Tayber Labonte.
The brothers, who are twins, noted that they won’t have another team like this next year as many of the key players graduate. That made the loss particularly bittersweet, but Zackary said, “Win or lose, it was a great experience.”