FITCHBURG -- Longtime Wallace Civic Center scorekeeper Jim Lapointe couldn't wait to crank the music up just before the start of the third period Sunday afternoon.

There was a little history at play in his song choice: No. 2 Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley held a two-goal lead on top-seeded Grafton/Blackstone Valley Tech through half an hour, and the last time the two teams played here, the Indians had come back from a two-goal deficit and escaped with a tie, their lone blemish coming into the Central Mass. Division 3A final.

But if Grafton had any thoughts of coming from behind again, well ... as Judas Priest said before the teams returned to the ice, "You've Got Another Thing Coming.

Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley players and coaches celebrate with their trophy after defeating Grafton, 5-1, in Sunday s Central Mass. Division 3A championship
Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley players and coaches celebrate with their trophy after defeating Grafton, 5-1, in Sunday s Central Mass. Division 3A championship game at the Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg. (SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JEFF PORTER)
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Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley held on and even padded the lead in the final three minutes, putting away the Indians in front of the Blue Knights' home fandom with five unanswered goals to claim their first ice hockey title in 36 years, 5-1.

The Blue Knights (17-4-1) now move on to Wednesday night's Division 3A state final against Western Mass. champ Easthampton (12-3-7), which knocked off Belchertown, 5-2, on Thursday night. That game will be played at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, with the opening faceoff slated for 7:30 p.m.

Grafton's defeat ended its season at 20-1-1, leaving Hanover as the lone unbeaten boys' hockey team in the Commonwealth.


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Longtime Lunenburg coach Eric Short was ecstatic with the title, giving rapid-fire fist pumps to the Lunenburg fan section as he walked off the ice following the trophy presentation.

"Words can't explain it," Short said. "All the morning practices, all the hard work, we had an unbelievable year. We were chasing Grafton the whole time. We had 2-1 leads, much like tonight, going into the third. (Grafton has) come back -- they're the best team all year. To come out tonight and come up with the win on the big stage, it's amazing.

"We played outstanding. My defensemen, my goaltender, everyone who stepped on the ice, were outstanding against a very good hockey team. The goal was to get to a state championship."

Senior Jared Simmons scored two goals -- the eventual game-winner being the first -- and was pivotal in the game-tying goal just before the end of the opening period.

Connor Viviano had scraped for the faceoff to the right of Grafton goalie Cam Powell, with Simmons coming up with it. Simmons skated behind the net and, with Powell sliding left to play the potential poke-in, Simmons found Nate Handy, who swept the puck in for the equalizer.

"We practice that one all the time," Simmons said. "Handy, he's only a freshman, and he was standing in the perfect spot, and I didn't even have to look: I knew he'd be there. He just put it right in the back of the net for me."

Simmons, who returned to the Blue Knights after playing the last two seasons with the Tyngsboro Junior Islanders, then gave Lunenburg a 2-1 lead 4:07 into the middle period, as he tipped Robby Carpenter's shot from the point up and over Powell's shoulder. That came with the Blue Knights rushing forward, thanks in part to Jacob Mauro blocking a shot by Grafton's Seth Vartabedian.

Mauro had skated in from his blue line and ripped a shot that Powell had caught in the gut, the faceoff staying in his zone.

Thirty-eight seconds later, Carpenter fired, and Simmons got his blade on it for the redirect.

"(Carpenter) is great for getting the puck to the net," Simmons said. "He has a lot of assists like that, and I knew it would be perfect and low, right on the ice, to tip it home.

"We're ecstatic (at winning the title). I mean, it's crazy: 36 years is twice as long as we've been alive, so it's really special."

Simmons then gave the Knights a two-goal cushion with seven seconds remaining in the middle period, as his slap shot from near the top of the circle beat Powell to light the lamp.

"Jared scored 30 points as a freshman; he came back to us his senior year," Short said. "He's been in juniors for two years. He came back for this sole reason. I promised him that if he came back to play high school hockey, that this was a possibility. He gave me a hug at the end and said, 'This is the best decision I've ever made.'

"Any kid out there who's thinking about leaving to play juniors or whatnot, they should call up Jared Simmons and ask him what he thinks about it."

Lunenburg nearly had that two-goal lead 20 seconds earlier, as Mauro tried to connect with classmate Viviano near the crease, but the pass was just a hair offline.

The Indians had come out fired up in the third, ripping shot after shot after shot at Lunenburg netminder Nathan Bourdelais (25 saves), who remained a brick wall.

"We had to keep doing what we were doing," Short said. "Keep the pedal to the metal and don't let them back in it."

With a man advantage in the first three-plus minutes of the third, Grafton had three shots on goal during the power play, adding a fourth just as the Knight emerged from the sin bin.

Not only that, a good portion of that third period saw the Lunenburg blue line rise to the occasion, keeping Bourdelais rather unscathed.

"They played like rocks and cleared the zone," Short said of his defense. "Grafton has big, strong forwards who compete. The message was get it out of the box. We couldn't sit back."

Yet no one scored until Viviano -- who already notched his 100th career point earlier in the campaign -- beat Powell on the short side with 2:51 left in the game, sending the Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley side of the Gaetz into a jubilant mood.

Grafton would yank Powell during a timeout with 1:48 left in the game for the extra attacker, but Mauro would score an empty netter with just under 56 seconds left to go for his 100th interscholastic point.

Grafton had jumped on top early, part of an incredibly fast first period which saw lightning-paced play and few whistles.

Tyler Baker dug the puck out of the corner to Bourdelais' right and skated into the slot, measuring as he went. He deposited it on the left after only 86 seconds had elapsed.

Viviano had a one-time bid kicked aside some 44 seconds later, showing that the Blue Knights had teeth in their attack despite the early tally.

In the interim, Grafton's forwards liked to play a high line while in the Blue Knights' defensive zone, trying to prevent the puck from getting to the blue line and away.

But Lunenburg had its opportunities to test Powell (12 saves).