WEST HARTFORD - With 45 seconds left in the third period Tuesday afternoon, Zach Monti skated off the ice for the final time in his Hall-Southington hockey uniform.
With his team trailing Conard by one, the goaltender had been pulled for an extra skater.
But the Warrior-Knights were unable to make up the deficit and as the clock ticked down, came the end to not only their season in the first round of the Division II state tournament, but also the high school career of one of the team’s most important players of the past two seasons as well.
In hockey, having a good goaltender is always important and Monti proved to be just that for Hall-Southington.
He was in the net when the co-op clinched its first title berth (in Division III) a season ago and as the team was getting ready to make the jump up to Division II, Monti only looked to get better.
“I put a lot of work into the offseason because I knew it was my senior year and I have to make a statement,” Monti said. “And with [fellow senior] Harrison Freda coming back, it’s competition so I told myself I needed to step up my game, I have to play better than the previous year. So when I came into this season, all I was thinking about was, ‘let’s get it done.’”
All season long, Monti has been making incredible saves and stops.
It was no different when he took to the ice Tuesday afternoon and made Conard work for both of its goals in the 2-1 loss.
Monti finished that game with 22 saves, saving his best performance for the final period when the Chieftains, spending most of their time in the Hall-Southington zone, took 11 shots.
Conard failed to find the back of the net once in those 15 minutes.
“Monti played a good game and made a lot of saves,” Warrior-Knights head coach Brian Cannon said. “Those guys got some good shots on him. We were debating who we were going to play [in net on Tuesday] and we went with the guy we’ve been riding most of the year and I thought he played a real good game.”
Monti wasn’t always in between the net, however.
It wasn’t until six years ago when he came into the goalie role, making the transition from forward to in between the pipes. But once he made the switch, everything “clicked.”
“In peewees, we didn’t have a goalie on our team and they needed someone to step up,” Monti said. “I was quick to jump at the opportunity. I thought it sounded fun, so I stepped into the role and it ended up working for me. I was the best one that tried out for the goaltender spot and then everything just fell into place.”
Monti also looked up to a number of goaltenders in the NHL with the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne being one of his favorites to watch.
“Getting on the ice it’s a lot harder than it looks,” Monti said. “Then seeing the play in the NHL is 10 times harder. He inspired me to always try harder and push myself.”
It certainly worked out well for Hall-Southington during the senior’s time in net. But there have also been some ups and downs Monti has had to overcome along the way as well - namely various injuries, including concussions.
“It was hard to get through because I missed a couple games and I started to get slow and getting back on track was difficult,” Monti said. “Then sometimes, like this past week with Drew Booth going down, it was just really hard to handle, our emotions were rising and it was hard to keep hockey in check.”
Booth had been injured the week before against Conard and losing him for the season had taken a toll on the entire team. But in the midst of Tuesday’s game, Booth made his appearance back at Veteran’s Memorial Rink to support his teammates despite the final result.
Now, with Monti’s senior season over, he’s looking at schools to attend and was accepted into his top school, Michigan State University, but is still waiting to hear back from the University of Wisconsin. He’ll continue to play hockey in college, just for a club team.
And as Monti looks back on his high school career and this season, he was couldn’t be prouder of what the team was able to accomplish during his tenure.
“I just wished we won a little bit more of [our games] and then get a higher seed in the tournament,” Monti said. “But it is what it is. But I’m proud of this team. There are 11 seniors on this team and I’ve played with them all four years. It was the best experience ever. I loved it.”
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org