Just enough to win; Hockey survives twice, improves to 3-0

By John Goralski

Sports writer

With less than two minutes left, Wethersfield pulled their goalie and pinned the puck deep in Hall-Southington’s zone. A strong attack in the final minute almost scored. At 30 seconds left, they forced the Warrior-Knight goalie to make another stop. With less than 10 seconds, it looked like a rugby scrum in front of the net.

The Warrior-Knights prevailed.

In the second week of the season the locals needed overtime to cap a four-goal comeback against a conference rival, and they needed every single second of the game to protect an early lead against a division two opponent. The Warrior-Knights improved to 3-0 with two more wins, but it was anything but easy.

“We’re an ugly 3-0 team, but we’re still 3-0,” said Hall-Southington hockey coach Brian Cannon. “Our effort has to be better [in our next game] against Rocky Hill because they’ve been able to find those chinks in our armor too often. I’d hate to see us go out of there with a loss. I’m still looking for a full effort.”

On Wednesday, Dec. 19, mistakes nearly cost them a victory in a conference battle with EO Smith. Brian Mahon and Dave Valentukonis combined for a first period goal to open the scoring. Then, everything fell apart.

EO Smith intercepted a clearing pass for an uncontested breakaway. A puck slipped past a defender at the blue line for another breakaway goal. EO Smith capitalized on four Warrior-Knight mistakes to take a 4-1 lead, and the game nearly slipped away.

“We just stopped thinking,” said Cannon. “We started turning over the puck, not completing plays, and making bad decisions. It just put us on our heels. We allowed them to play, and that’s what we can’t do.”

Late in the second period, the Warrior-Knights began to battle back. Owen Kantor trimmed the lead to two goals. Sophomore Erich Bender (11 saves) stopped a penalty shot attempt. Kevin Cop and Dylan Roach scored goals in the final period, and Justin Rose scored the game-winner in the first minute of overtime. The locals escaped with a 5-4 win.

“It’s good to see that they were able to come back, but we shouldn’t have to work that hard and that desperately,” said Cannon. “We shouldn’t have to come back from a deficit that we shouldn’t have been in to begin with. But we managed to find the back of the net on a couple of shots, and we ended up banging a couple in.”

That momentum spilled into Saturday’s road game against division two rival Wethersfield. The Warrior-Knights defense didn’t allow a single shot in the opening period. Kantor scored twice, and Jarod Florian pushed the lead to 3-0 midway through the second period.

Then it happened again. The offense vanished.

“We tried to give it away, but either they missed or Bender got in the way,” said Cannon. “They had some really dangerous opportunities. We let them hang around, and the blame is on us. We let them hang around, and it almost cost us.”

Wethersfield trimmed the lead to two goals at the end of the second period. With 12:20 remaining, an Eagle score made it 3-2. But Bender rallied for 33 saves, including four in the final two minutes, and Hall-Southington improved to 3-0 with another one-point victory.

“I’m looking for three periods of solid play. That’s all I’m looking for—win, lose, or draw,” said Cannon. “I can take a loss to a team like [division one opponents] Conard or Branford with a good effort, but against these other teams it’s not acceptable. We don’t want overtime. We want to put together an effort for three periods. Is that too much to ask for?”

We’ll see. The undefeated Warrior-Knights will look to continue their winning ways during the holiday week with games against Rocky Hill and NW Catholic. It’s been a long time since the locals have celebrated the new year undefeated.

By John Goralski

Dave Valentukonis puts a shot on goal during a 5-4 overtime win against EO Smith on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

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