NEW HAVEN - For the first time in its existence, the Hall-Southington boys hockey co-op is headed to a state title game.
The No. 6-ranked Warrior-Knights beat the No. 2-seed Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville team 1-0 on Thursday night in the Division III semifinals. It was also the first time Hall-Southington defeated the Eagles in three meetings this season.
“We showed up and played, to be quite honest,” Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon said with a smile about what was different this time around against WMRP.
The only goal of the game did not come until nearly four minutes had elapsed in the third period.
The Warrior-Knights, like they had nearly all game long, maintained extended pressure in the WMRP zone. Coming away from the corner boards to the left of the Eagles’ goaltender, Stephen Vaughan, Hall-Southington’s Mike DiPietro attempted to send a pass through the crease.
Instead of reaching its intended recipient the pass ricocheted off of a WMRP player and found the back of the net with 10:58 left in the third, cuing a celebration on the ice and in the Hall-Southington cheering section.
There was still plenty of game to be played following the score but the Warrior-Knights were nearly perfect in their defending and wasting of the clock. One of the only blemishes came with just over two minutes remaining, when they took a penalty to give the Eagles one last chance with a man-advantage.
But WMRP could not capitalize on either the power play or having an extra skater after Vaughan went to the bench and the Warrior-Knights punched their ticket to Saturday’s final.
Hall-Southington came close to taking a two-goal lead, as Graham Kennedy roofed a beautiful shot over Vaughan but the goal was waved off because the net had come off its moorings.
While Hall-Southington left Ingalls Rink with the victory, WMRP had the most impressive player on the ice. Vaughan was stellar through all 45 minutes of play, making 30 saves on 31 shots. The Eagles were in the game until the final horn because of his play.
“That kid had a great year,” Cannon said of Vaughan. “He had a good goals-against average and a very high save percentage. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. To our detriment, we put too many one-dimensional shots on him.”
Even though it ended in a scoreless tie, the first period was not short on excitement. The Warrior-Knights dominated the game’s early play, pinning the Eagles in their own zone frequently in the early going.
After a few minutes though, WMRP seemed to get its bearing and started to open the game up. The Eagles broke off a couple of odd-man and 2-on-2 rushes but were turned away empty-handed.
WMRP came the closest of either team to put up a tally in the opening period. Midway through the frame, the Eagles found the back of the Hall-Southington net from a sharp angle but the official, standing right next to the net, immediately waved it off, citing the fact that the post on the short side came off the line.
“Each team scored a nice [goal] that didn’t count,” Cannon said with a chuckle. “And both teams had opportunities.”
The best chances in the second half of the period came from Warrior-Knight sticks, as they maintained possession in the WMRP end for an extended period but could not find the twine. The first period ended with the shot totals tied at seven.
The second period was more exciting than the first but only for one team’s fans. Hall-Southington owned the middle 15 minutes, outshooting WMRP 19-1.
“They got to the puck quicker than we did,” WMRP coach Dennis Tulimieri said. “That’s for sure. We expected that. We just couldn’t do a whole lot about it.”
But the real story of the second was Vaughan. He turned away each of the Warrior-Knights’ 19 shots to keep the Eagles in the game, despite Hall-Southington dominating the time of possession in the second.
The Warrior-Knights will face No. 1 Woodstock, who defeated fifth-seeded Lyman Hall-Haddam-Killingworth-Coginchaug 6-0 in the other Division III semifinal matchup following the Hall-Southington/WMRP game. The final will be played at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Ingalls Rink in New Haven.
As far as getting ready for that game, Cannon doesn’t have anything too rigorous in mind.
“We’re going to see if we can get some ice [Friday],” he said. “I don’t know if we can or not. We’ll probably have a relatively light practice because we’re on a bus at 6, 7 o’clock Saturday morning to get down here. So we definitely don’t want to overuse the legs.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @K_baum30