Easthampton braces for Lunenburg in state Division 3A hockey final

  • Goaltender Nate Barnes and the Easthampton hockey team face Lunenburg in the state Division 3A hockey championship, Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. at MassMutual Center in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • Garren Fugiel and the Easthampton hockey team face Lunenburg in the state Division 3A hockey championship, Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Easthampton hockey coach Bill Griese has been saying “it’s the biggest game of the year” for so long his team started to tease him for it.

He told the Eagles before the Western Massachusetts Division 3A championship game that it was the last time he’d say it. Then Easthampton beat Belchertown to secure the school’s first sectional title.

Now the Eagles have one game left: the Division 3A state championship against Lunenburg/Ayer-Shirley at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

“I do think the game is important,” Griese said. “It’s another way to make a statement.”

Lunenberg (17-4-1) handed Grafton its first loss of the season in the Central Mass. championship game to reach the state final. The Blue Knights have won four straight dating back to the regular season. Jacob Mauro’s 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) rank fourth in central Mass. Lunenburg has four players with at least 30 points.

The Western Mass. representative hasn’t won the 3A championship since Agawam beat Grafton 3-1 in 2013. Central teams have outscored the West 25-3 over the past four years. In the nine years Division 3A has been contested, West teams are 3-6.

“We realize that the Central Mass. teams are usually some pretty stiff competition,” Griese said. “We’re going to try and keep the game simple.”

Easthampton (12-3-7) has focused on refining its system since the sectional title game. The Eagles have worked on their forecheck in the offensive zone.

“The more we stick to not chasing the puck and getting out of position, the better shape we’ll be in,” Griese said.

Should Easthampton end up in trouble, senior goalie Nate Barnes will be its last line of defense. He has two shutouts this year.

“Nate’s our senior, we certainly want to reward him,” Griese said.

The Eagles’ defense will benefit from the return of sophomore Ben Howe, who missed the Western Mass. final with an injury.

They’ll look to sophomore forward Garren Fugiel for scoring. He leads Easthampton with 25 goals and 19 assists. Christopher Tenczar and Jake Batchelder both have more than 20 points for Easthampton.

Griese expects Lunenberg to play at the level of some of the higher-end Berry League teams Easthampton played this season. The Eagles tied Ludlow and West Springfield during the regular season.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.

Editor’s Note: This story was changed at 9:30 a.m. on March 14, 2018, to correct the day of the championship game to Wednesday.