Hockey bests the best of Division II; Warrior-Knights challenge two top teams, first to beat East Catholic

By John Goralski

Sports Writer

The second period was the ultimate test for Hall-Southington defenders because East Catholic skaters seemed angry at the ice. On Wednesday, Jan. 23, the Warrior-Knights had surprised the undefeated Eagles with two goals in the first period, and the undefeated division two team threw everything they could at the DIII co-op.

The Eagles formed a stranglehold at center ice and sent a swarm of players at the Hall-Southington net. East Catholic took 28 shots in the period as the Warrior-Knights scrambled to survive four short-handed possessions.

Jeff Moore brushed aside every attempt. Defenders blanketed Eagle shooters, and nothing got through. As the horn signaled the end of the second period, Hall-Southington opened up a 3-0 advantage. Chalk that up to the defense.

“This is what we were expecting in the last two seasons. We just weren’t able to find it,” said H-SHS hockey coach Brian Cannon. “This year they’ve been buying what we’re selling. They’re putting in the work, and they’re getting the results.”

The offense did their job. Jarod Florian scored twice in the opening period, and assisted Kevin Cop’ score in the second. Dylan Roach and Dave Valentukonis put the game out of reach with scores in the third period. Justin Rose finished with two assists. Valentukonis, Florian, Will Thompson, and Owen Kantor each scored one assist.

East Catholic out-shot the Warrior-Knights, 47-21. The Eagles ruined the shutout bid with almost 11 minutes remaining, but the locals held on for a 5-1 upset to get their ninth win of the year.

“It’s huge for us. I think we caught them a little off tonight, and we played really well in the beginning part of the game,” said Cannon. “This was the No. 1 team in the division above us. They were undefeated, and we managed to come out and find a way to win. I got a number of texts the other day after the Newington game, and I won’t be surprised if I get a bunch more tomorrow. I think that people are happy for us—even people from rival teams.”

With the victory, the Warrior-Knights continued to dig in as the team to beat in their division. Even with a 6-3 loss on Friday against North Branford—another top DII team at 10-2—the locals held on to sole possession of first place in division three.

With eight games remaining, Hall-Southington is 9-2. They’re undefeated against teams from the top division (1-0). They’re undefeated against teams at their own level (5-0). Both losses came against teams in the middle division that are in the conversation for a tournament title.

Cannon came into the season with high expectations for his offense. He had confidence in his team’s goaltending abilities. It was the defense that he still questioned. For now, those questions have been answered, but Cannon said that there’s still work to be done.

“They still elevate my blood pressure frequently over the course of the game, but they are recovering better. They’re catching their own mistakes at times,” said the coach. “They’ve been doing pretty well in front of our net lately, but we’ve still got to do better in transition ice. We’re still letting the other team get through the neutral zone before our defensemen try to deal with them. What we need to do now is to start taking away that next step. We have to step in and not let their high guy get the puck. It’s a process, and it takes a long time to work through it.”

It doesn’t get any easier. This week the team will face cross-town DII rival NW Catholic for a chance to avenge their only lopsided loss (a 10-3 rout in late December). The rest of the season is scheduled against teams in the top six of the DIII standings with a pair of contests against DII rival Conard.

By the time the postseason arrives, all of Cannon’s questions should be answered.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@southingtonobserver.com.

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