HARTFORD - Connor McNamara raced up the rink with time winding down.
With under a minute left in the final period, McNamara collected a ricochet the goalie had just deflected out to the left and took the shot, depositing the puck into the back of the net to deliver a 2-1 win for the Pisa Cobras (Plainville) over the East Coast Militia (Bristol) in the opening round of the Nutmeg State Games 16U Roller Hockey Tournament Saturday morning.
“We had called a timeout to basically say one guy take it wide around the defenseman and the other guy go in the crease,” McNamara said. “It just happened that I was going down [the rink] on the play. Mason [Cipriano] set me up perfectly and I was able to just tap it in.”
It was a game that featured plenty of familiar faces for the teams, with many of the players on both sides playing and practicing at the same rink.
“Most of the players on the teams have played with each other since they were five years old,” Cobras assistant coach Paul Norton said. “They all know each other and they’re all friends. They played a hard game.”
The Militia had one final opportunity to bring the puck down the rink, but the Cobras managed to knock it loose and clear it down to the opposite end with nine seconds remaining.
After a slow first period that saw each team net a goal, the Cobras spent the majority of the second period inside the Militia’s zone and around the net.
“In the beginning, we weren’t forechecking at all,” Cobras head coach Larry McNamara said. “They were playing squirt hockey where they were 10 feet away from the guy and waiting to knock it out of the air. That’s not going right at the guy as fast as we can and make them make mistakes. We weren’t doing that. Everyone was hanging back.
“We talked about that before the game. What we wanted was to forecheck, be right on them, and we were hanging back. We allowed them to break it out with zero effort. Later on in the game, we started to pick it up, forechecked them hard in the zone. We were in their zone more because we were on them.”
“We came together and worked as a team,” Norton added. “I think Connor and Devin [Norton] stepped up speed-wise.”
For the younger McNamara, it was a matter of the team using its point men more than it had throughout the first period.
“When we started to use our points, we were able to get more shots on [net] and get a low rotation going and make more plays in the offensive zone,” he said.
But some of the issues the coach saw in the first game happened to the Cobras in their second game of the day.
A lack of defense and timely passes resulted in a 6-5 loss to the West Haverstraw Bricktown Bandits. It was a role reversal for the Cobras, as the Bandits scored the game-winning goal with 30 seconds remaining. For many on the team, it was their third game of the day, with McNamara noting that his team looked tired and slow.
One of the bright spots was again the play of goaltender Nick Mongillo. The goalie made a number of key acrobatic saves in the first game as well, especially on some of the Militia’s breakaways.
“I thought Nick came up huge,” the elder McNamara said of his goalie after the first game. “He made some really big saves for us in that game.”
The Cobras will resume play Sunday morning at 9 a.m. against the Mahopac Indians in a game that could determine if they play for the bronze or gold medal in the age bracket. The Militia will take on the Bandits at 9:40 a.m., looking to do the same.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach