NEW HAVEN - The Hall-Southington boys hockey team used its energy and persistent forecheck to topple the Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville team 1-0 on Thursday night at Ingalls Rink in the Division III semifinals.
“That’s our game,” Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon said. “We don’t have a lot of star power on this team. We don’t have a [Ryan] Black or a Nathan DeLuca. We don’t have that. What we’ve got is three lines that we can put out against any team, any line, any time, and they’ll work. Then we’ve got a fourth that we can put in if we’re getting tired.”
From the opening faceoff of the first period through the end of the second period, the Warrior-Knights dominated the time of possession. The play was mostly in the WMRP zone and Hall-Southington was able to pile on shots through the first 30 minutes. After tying 7-7 in shots after the first, Hall-Southington outshot the Eagles 19-1 in the second frame.
Despite having 26 shots through two, the Warrior-Knights had yet to find the back of the net. But the team did not panic entering the third.
“We didn’t want to change anything,” Cannon said. “What we were doing was a sound game plan and they were executing it well. Other than the mistakes that high school kids are going to make, we were playing well. We didn’t change a thing. We just needed to keep pounding the goalie and hope to beat him.”
Eventually, Mike DiPietro managed to open the scoring with 10:58 left in the third with a deflected pass that ended up behind WMRP goalie Stephen Vaughan. The Warrior-Knights had managed to finally break through and, for Cannon, it had a lot to do with his team’s depth.
“All the guys played well,” he said. “A few too many turnovers, a few too many off-the-stick plays that got lost in translation early in the game. But I think once we took a half a step away from them fatigue-wise, then we were able to move the puck better. I think that’s why we looked better in the second and third period. Their fatigue factor gave us a little bit more time and space to operate.
“Most of the time, most of the teams we play are not as deep as us so we’re able to, as the game goes on, dictate more and more of the pace as we tire them out.”
While DiPietro got the goal, Miles Aronow was noticeable every time he was on the ice for Hall-Southington. He was often the first one in on the forecheck and frequently made plays to keep the offensive-zone pressure on for the Warrior-Knights.
“He’s the Energizer Bunny. He’s just amazing,” Cannon said of Aronow. “His quickness and agility and read-and-react is fantastic. He’s a huge part of our forecheck. Then you’ve got the speed of Jeremy Fortin and the brains of Jacob Mohr on that line. They’re a line to be reckoned with.”
One downside of having such a strong game on the forecheck is the lack of work for your goalie and Hall-Southington could have easily fallen victim to that. While the Warrior-Knights had the puck in the WMRP end for most of the game, the Eagles had numerous great odd-man opportunities and some extended zone time throughout the game. But Hall-Southington goalie Zach Monti came up big, making 13 saves for the shutout.
“That’s scary for us and hard on the goalie,” Cannon said. “He’s down there [and] he’s not really hot. He’s barely warm if he’s lucky and now, all of a sudden, they come down with an odd-man rush in good position and it’s like, ‘Oh boy. I hope he’s ready for this.’ He managed to do it.”
This was the third meeting between Hall-Southington and WMRP and the Eagle were victorious each of the first two times, both in the regular season. But going into Thursday’s game, the Warrior-Knights were confident they could win and it showed in their energy on the ice.
“The first time we [played], I thought we largely outplayed them,” Cannon said. “But we had turnovers and we let these guys behind us and they were finding the back of the net when they had the opportunities. I don’t think we should’ve lost that game but we found a way to lose it. The second time we played them, it was all them. We didn’t show up. They beat us at the way we want to play and I give them full credit for that one. I thought we should have beat them the first time, they absolutely beat us the second time and we were hoping we’d be able to prevail. One was enough.”
Hall-Southington will now face the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Woodstock, in the finals this morning at 10 a.m. The Warrior-Knights and the Centaurs split their regular-season series 1-1, as Woodstock won the first meeting 2-1 in December and Hall-Southington evened the series with a 3-2 win in February.
The Centaurs have ripped through the first three rounds of the tournament, outscoring their opposition 28-1. But having played them close twice this season, the Warrior-Knights feel confident that, if they play their game, the title could be theirs.
“At least we know we’re in the game,” Cannon said. “Somebody else might get in there and say, ‘We don’t have a chance against these guys.’ But we did manage to pull it off once, so nothing says we can’t pull it off twice. But God knows they can make a mockery of us, too, if we let them.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @K_baum30