SPRINGFIELD — Jared Simmons wasn’t the most dangerous offensive threat for the Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley hockey team during the regular season.
But with championships on the line, he’s been lethal.
Just four days after scoring twice in a 5-1 win over Grafton/Valley Tech in the Central Mass. Division 3A championship, the senior forward notched a natural hat trick to lead the Blue Knights past Easthampton, 5-2, in the Division 3A state final last Wednesday night at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
It’s the first state championship in the history of both the LAS and Lunenburg High hockey programs.
“Words can’t even explain (how I feel),” said longtime Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley coach Eric Short. “The goal for the whole year, the last two years really, was to get here and to actually be able to follow through. The support from all three towns and both schools has been just amazing. To have those fans out there and be able to win the first state championship, it’s just so great for the schools, for the communities. I just couldn’t be happier.”
The win was especially sweet for Simmons, who had forgone high school hockey during his sophomore and junior years to play in a Junior league. This year, though still playing in a Junior league, he came back to the Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley program to play alongside his younger brother, Max.
“I got to play in front of all my friends and my family; I got to play alongside my brother. It’s been a dream come true,” said Jared Simmons. “These guys are all my heroes here in my hometown.”
With leading scorer Jacob Mauro (25-25-50) skating at significantly less than full strength due to illness, the Blue Knights needed an offensive spark from another source, and Jared Simmons answered the bell.
With less than four minutes to play in the first period and Easthampton holding a 1-0 lead, Jared Simmons took a feed from Mauro and snapped a wrist shot past Eagles goalie Nate Barnes to tie the game.
LAS (19-4-1) carried that momentum into the second period and began to dominate play against an Easthampton squad that dressed just 13 skaters. The Blue Knights maintained their up-tempo style of play, attacking aggressively at every opportunity, and began to impose their will on the undermanned Eagles (12-4-7).
“We saw a little bit of their film and we saw that they were rolling just two lines. And at this level of hockey that’s really tough to do,” said Jared Simmons. “So we rolled three (lines). In between shifts we had a lot more time to recover, and I think we just outlasted them.”
Jared Simmons gave LAS the lead less than two minutes into the second period on a nifty backhand over Barnes’ shoulder, with assists going to Mauro and Declan Fitzpatrick.
The Blue Knights dominated the period, outshooting Easthampton 17-7. Barnes kept the Eagles close, making several outstanding saves, including highlight stops on Fitzpatrick and Connor Vivano. But the one Blue Knight Barnes couldn’t stop was Jared Simmons, who completed his first hat trick of the year with 3:51 to play in the period. He poked home a loose puck from a scramble in front of the net for his 17th goal of the season. Max Simmons and Aaron O’Connor were credited with the assists and LAS took a 3-1 lead into the third period.
The second intermission did nothing to slow the Blue Knights’ momentum. Less than a minute into the third period, Sean Simpson took a lead pass from Luke Dufresne, broke into the offensive zone and beat Barnes with a wrist shot from the circle to make it 4-1.
That was more than enough support for goalie Nate Bourdelais, who made 23 saves, including 11 in the third period.
Easthampton cut the lead to 4-2 with 6:08 to play on Jake Delisle’s second goal of the game. Playing with a sense of desperation, the Eagles seized momentum and began to buzz the LAS net. Bourdelais was peppered with shots, but stood tall, at one point making four saves in rapid succession.
“If they had been able to cut it to one goal, they have the momentum and anything can happen,” said Short. “But (Bourdelais) weathered the storm, he really did. He did the same thing last week against Worcester, weathered the storm and made some big saves.”
Fitzpatrick put the exclamation point on the game and the championship with an empty-net goal with 1:28 to play.