The real test; Skaters beat defending champ, clinch a postseason berth

By John Goralski
Sports Writer

Hall-Southington hockey has knocked off a division one opponent. They’ve come out on top in all but one division two game, and they’ve swept through their division three pairings without as much as a hiccup. But make no bones about it. There was only one game circled at the start of the year—Newington-Berlin-Manchester.
Last year they met three times, and the Newington co-op won all three. The loss in the conference championships killed the Warrior-Knights’ momentum in the postseason. Newington’s win sparked a championship rally.
If the ultimate goal is a state title, Newington is the biggest obstacle.
“This is the one. To me, this was the most important game we played this year,” said H-SHS coach Brian Cannon. “It was an exciting game. There were errors and omissions on both sides with some hard play. We came out physical in the beginning and kept it interesting.”
The locals were almost too physical at the start. In the first period, the Warrior-Knights were whistled for three of their four penalties. With 5:31 remaining in the opening period, Newington rushed against the short-handed locals, and took a 1-0 lead with a scooped shot that looped over the pads of Hall-Southington’s goalkeeper.
“You can’t get down a man,” said Cannon. “We took three minors in the first period, so we spent most of the first period short-handed. You just can’t survive like that.”
Hall-Southington answered in the final minute. With 30 seconds left, Joe Gambardella and Owen Kantor pushed the puck around the back of the net and out to the point. Brian Mahon’s slapshot ricocheted off the goalie’s pads and inched into the net.
Instead of trailing 1-0 at the break, the locals had tied the game.
“That was a huge boost for us,” said Cannon. “If we went into that room down one on a power play goal, we would have probably been even more deflated in the second period. That goal was huge.”
From there, both teams turned to their defenses. Jeff Moore made 42 saves for the Warrior-Knights. Drew O’Leary made 26 stops for Newington, and neither team was able to score in the second period. Hall-Southington came closest with a controversial goal called back by officials.
“We had something to prove after last year losing to them in three games, especially in the conference championship,” said senior defenseman Will Thompson. “We have four solid defenders, and that’s all it takes. Coach got us in great shape at the start of the season… Halfway through the season, coach switched up our defensive pairings, and I think that made a big difference.”
With just over nine minutes remaining, Hall-Southington scored the game winner. Mahon led a rush at the net, and his pass found Jesse Patterson at the post. The locals held off a shorthanded situation in the final two minutes, and came away with the victory.
“That’s what we were looking to do the whole game,” said Cannon. “They are really good at keeping people to the outside of the boards when you get into their zone. We were looking to work a trailer or get a guy going to the pipe. We didn’t do anything with a trailer all day. Luckily, we got a guy going to the post, and he got a stick on it.”
With the victory, the Warrior-Knights (8-1) moved into first place in the division three rankings, but they aren’t safe yet. The team still has two upcoming games against the Rockville co-op (8-1) and a rematch against Newington (8-2) with the chance of playing either one in the conference finals.
On the other hand, the Warrior-Knights have established themselves as the one to beat.
“We came out knowing that we had to battle the whole game. They’re a good team, but we knew what we had to do. We came out and got the job done. We played physical and did what we had to do to win,” said senior co-captain Justin Rose. “This is a big rivalry game for us. We played them in the conference championship last year, and they beat us. We didn’t let that slip. It was still in the back of our heads.”

By John GoralskiOwen Kantor fights off defenders during a 2-1 win over Newington-Berlin-Manchester on Jan. 19 to clinch a postseason berth.

By John Goralski
Owen Kantor fights off defenders during a 2-1 win over Newington-Berlin-Manchester on Jan. 19 to clinch a postseason berth.

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