Spartan skaters -- 'it was just not meant to be'
The last time Shepaug Valley High experienced state tournament ice hockey, the sole freshman on this winter's squad, Creighton Moore, was in kindergarten.
That thought wasn't lost on many of the approximately 300 fans on hand, among them numerous fellow Spartan athletes from other sports, on the evening of Feb. 25 at The Gunnery's Linen Rink.
At stake in the regular-season ice finale between the host Spartans of the co-op Shepaug/Litchfield/Nonnewaug program and arch-rival Housatonic Valley/Wamogo was the Berkshire Cup, emblematic of supremacy between the schools.
Yet coach Mike Gorra's Spartans, with seven wins in the bank this winter, were also ever so close to qualifying for the CIAC state tournament for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Everything was on the line, and the teams responded with what coach Gorra termed "a very exciting and action-packed game."
Unfortunately for the Spartans and their growing legion of fans, Housy managed to kill several key penalties, including a five-minute major in the third period, and rallied for a 6-4 victory.
On top of a 6-4 loss the previous day to Sheehan High, of Wallingford, at The Gunnery, the Feb. 25 defeat consigned Shepaug/Litchfield/Nonnewaug to the tournament sidelines.
"I was not prepared for this outcome," said coach Gorra after the curtain had dropped on his much-improved club.
It's difficult to shed a happy light on a season that could have been ever more successful, but the Spartans' 7-13 ledger this winter was the best since a similar record in 2004-05.
Shepaug had been a perennial qualifier for the state tournament for many years, including consecutive records of 12-7-1, 12-7 and 13-9 in the years leading up to '04-05.
However, a dramatic downturn in player turnout sent the Spartans spiralling into a series of no-win and one-win campaigns.
With the addition last winter of players from nearby Nonnewaug and an influx of some talented young Shepaug skaters, coach Gorra's program was clearly headed upward.
This winter, the Spartans featured a 20-man roster and produced seven victories.
The state tournament has to wait until next year. Yet there's hope and, better still, a growing confidence in the Spartan lockerroom as the players and their coaches look ahead to 2013-14.
Contributing to the program for the final time this winter were Shepaug seniors Anthony Graziani, who did yeoman work as goaltender, Kate Butler, Greg Valentine and Gavin Hauspurg, as well as Tyler Smith, of Nonnewaug, and Ryan Gannon, of Litchfield.
Coach Gorra was disappointed, but not disheartened, and offered his thanks to the Shepaug community for its suport.
"The team and I appreciate all the support this season," he said. "We truly believe that these six seniors should have had at least one more game in them."
For more photos and a summary of the Shepaug/Housy match, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.