Jimmy O'Keefe remembers the game as if it were yesterday. So do Randy Boyle and Rick Wood.
Thirty years ago, they were the young hockey heroes of Hudson, celebrating their stunning Division 1 state title win on the famed Boston Garden ice.
On Saturday, the trio stood in Section 120 at the DCU Center in Worcester. As they watched O'Keefe's son, Sean, and his Hudson High School teammates lose their battle against Gardner for the Division 3 Central sectional crown, they shared memories. In 1978, they beat Burlington, becoming the last public high school team to win the Division 1 state title before the creation of the current Super 8 format.
It was a thriller witnessed by thousands of fans.
O'Keefe, now 48, vividly recalls the winning goal. Mark Chiasson fired the shot. It was quick, and it was accurate. "It was a wrister," O'Keefe said.
As he finished his thought, Hawks captain Jon Gould fired a wrister of his own into Gardner's net.
O'Keefe hollered, joined by Boyle and Wood. Around them, hundreds of Hudson fans, most clad in red and white, let up a massive cheer.
The scene was reminiscent of the one three decades ago. Ask current Hudson head coach Mike Nanartowich, who was an eighth-grader back when the Hawks faced Burlington in the old Garden.
When Hudson won, Nanartowich said, he "danced around and acted like an idiot." But it wasn't that much of a surprise. Like the rest of the town, he knew how talented the Hawks were.
But no one outside the area knew much about the Hawks - certainly not the broadcaster calling the game on television.
"He introduced us as the 'Hudson . . . ahh . . . Eagles. . . . well, there's a big bird on their chest,' " recalled the 48-year-old Boyle, who lives in Hudson and owns a construction company in town.
At the time, the Hawks had proven themselves the best team in Central Massachusetts. The previous year, they made a run to the state final, but lost to powerhouse Matignon, 4-2, at the Eastern States Coliseum in West Springfield. Though it didn't matter to anyone from Eastern Massachusetts, Hudson knew they had something special.
"We put up a pretty good fight against Matignon, in a time when the Central and West representative was overwhelmed by the Eastern team. Period for period, we stayed right with them," said the Hudson squad's coach, Peter Van Buskirk.
The next season, he said, "We were excited coming in. We had a good group of athletes."
The Hawks knew what they had to do win. But nine games into the season, they weren't doing it.
"We were 6-3, but we weren't playing our best hockey," recalled Paul Filipe, the team's star defenseman who went on to play at Northeastern, where he is a member of the school's athletic hall of fame.
So Filipe and his fellow seniors called a players-only meeting at O'Keefe's house. They had all grown up together, playing on the same youth hockey, football, and baseball teams, skating on the same ponds for hours, and playing in countless practices and games.
"We decided we had to buckle up, and we did," said Filipe, 48, who lives in Lynnfield and works for a software company. "We went on to win 15 in a row."
The Hawks finished 21-3, behind a fast, cohesive group that featured forwards Kevin Cyr, Boyle, and Paul Polange, a defense led by Filipe and Tommy Rand, and a backup-goalie-turned-starter, Lorne Colena, who wasn't supposed to be in the spotlight. Wood, the team's starting goaltender, suffered a knee injury during football season.
"Ricky was 6-foot-3, athletic, the captain of the football team. Lorne was solid, but not a starter," said Van Buskirk.
Still, the Hawks beat St. Peter-Marian in the District 3 finals and Springfield Cathedral for the Central-Western Massachusetts title. Burlington toppled Matignon for the Eastern Mass. crown, setting up the state final. "They were pretty fired up by beating Matignon. They might have thought we were just some small town from Central Mass.," said Filipe.
Hudson's players weren't fazed by the EMass powerhouse, but they had eyes like dinner plates when they saw Boston Garden fill with fans. "We went out for our pregame skate, and there was no one in the building," said Boyle. "We went to get ready, and as we came back out, there was almost a packed house."
"I was out of my mind, with all those people there," said Wood, 48, who works in construction in the area.
The game seesawed. The Hawks dominated at the outset, but Burlington stormed back and tied it late in the third period.
In overtime, Van Buskirk tapped Chiasson's line, which had been on the ice when Burlington's Jeff Cowles scored the tying goal. "We felt pretty bad about that," said Chiasson, 48, who now works in the technology department at the high school. "Three minutes to go, we're looking at a state championship and we let up the tying goal."
Chiasson lined up at the top of the circle, behind O'Keefe and right-winger Peter Millett.
It was March 20, 1978 - Bobby Orr's birthday. Eight years earlier, they had watched as Orr scored to win the Stanley Cup for the Bruins. Now, here they were on the Garden ice, with 1:29 left in overtime, trying to block out the shouting of fans who had traveled from Hudson in more than 15 buses and dozens of cars.
O'Keefe won the face-off and passed to Chiasson. His shot sailed under the crossbar for the 4-3 victory, and the Garden ice became a blur of sticks and gloves as families and friends hugged in the stands.
The celebrating Hawks piled on each other, mimicking their heroes, like Orr.
In the hazy hours that followed, the mob of Hudson fans followed the team into the Garden locker room and tailed them and a police escort through town. The convoy convened at the Poor Farm Lounge, where an all-night celebration ensued.
Chiasson recalls giving a radio interview the next morning, barely awake. The team later painted a mural on the side of the barn, commemorating the win.
Though the Poor Farm was torn down and storage units now occupy the space, no one in town has forgotten. The largest banner in the Hudson High gymnasium reads, "1978 Division 1 State Champions."
"You don't really fully appreciate it until afterwards, and then you wish you could go back," said the 65-year-old Van Buskirk, now the women's hockey coach at Holy Cross.
"It was such a stunning victory. It goes by you really quickly. The locker room, the people, there were just so many people. There wasn't a moment in the game where anyone could relax, and the way it just ended, it exploded so quickly, and dissipated in the air before we could sit back and realize . . . we just won the Division 1 title here at the Boston Garden."
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com.