Dan Donato admittedly had some nerves heading in to the NEPSAC Final Four over the weekend up in Salem, N.H. He is smack in the middle of rebuilding process at the and his team was set to face some of the best hockey competition in all of New England.
All his team did was travel to New Hampshire and defeat its two opponents by a 13-2 advantage to claim the first hockey championship in school history.
So much for the rebuilding period.
“I think it’s going to do a lot,” said Donato. “I think people realize that we are one of the premier programs around the Boston area.”
Dexter’s first opponent was Tilton, a team that came in riding a double-digit winning streak. Donato knew Tilton had a knack for keeping teams off the scoreboard, but his squad tacked on four unanswered goals in the to ride into the finals with a 5-1 win.
Donato’s team used the same formula against the surprise of the tournament, New Hampton. Dexter blitzed New Hampton with a score of 8-1 on Sunday.
Getting the early leads were crucial for Dexter, but having to play the next two plus periods with a confident team, which could have gotten overconfident given the circumstances, could have given Donato a little cause for concern.
“Being an insecure coach is a good thing,” said Donato. “When you are up three or four goals in you feel good about it, but in the back of your mind you don’t want to be the worst collapse in the history of the tournament either. I guess I looked at it both ways.
“But we were playing so well it would have been hard to fall on our face, so to speak. The kids just rose to the occasion. They played really well. It was a lot of fun and I’m really proud of the kids.”
His team played so well that he was told his seven-goal victory in the championship game was one of the most lopsided victories in NEPSAC history.
Donato said before the tournament he was banking on Kevin Green being the catalyst between the pipes, and in the three playoff games Green appeared in this season he only surrendered four goals.
“When that first shot goes in on Kevin—and when he’s on, most days he is—he sucks that first puck in and you say, ‘OK, we are all set,’” said Donato.
He continued: “We just have to do our job on the other end and we will be fine. He gives us a lot of confidence the way he was playing and when you have a good goalie it allows you to play looser, because you aren’t panicking about giving up one goal. I think we were able to play a little free and easy.”
The question now becomes where does the program go from here. It’s hard to keep ascending when you win a championship in some of the first years of the “rebuilding” process, but Donato sees a team that can only get better and better.
“We feel really good about our young guys,” he said. “We are going to be a little bit younger next year, but we are going to be talented. I think (the win) really helps. These kids are going to be really tested now. There aren’t going to be bigger games that they will play next year.”
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