By John Goralski
Jesse Patterson’s slapshot couldn’t have been drawn it up any better when his slapshot pulled Conard’s goaltender out of position to his right. Ken Fleming one-timed it back across the crease, and a crashing Dave Valentukonis found the open net.
Momentum had certainly turned as Hall-Southington players celebrated the 2-2 tie as the horn echoed through the XL Center in Hartford.
All that was missing was the Brass Bonanza.
“Most of the teams we’ve played as of late have had really good goalies,” said Hall-Southington hockey coach Brian Cannon. “If they’re squared up against you, you’re not going to beat them. You’ve got to get the puck moving from side to side. You’ve got to knock them off, and we managed to do that a couple of times today.”
The players had the game circled all season—an annual rivalry against Conard that was moved to the home of the Whale. It was enough of a distraction to lead to a sloppy loss the night before, but it didn’t stop the team from rallying to their first ever win over their West Hartford rival.
Valentukonis’ goal sparked a four-goal rally. Hall-Southington held on for a 5-2 win.
“It was awesome. It was unbelievable,” said senior co-captain Justin Rose. “We knew that we had a chance this year because it’s been a good year for us. We knew what we had to do. We went out and did our jobs to get the W.”
It didn’t come easy. Conard entered the game with just four wins, but they were still the clear favorites as a higher-division opponent. Twice, they took a one-goal lead, and both times Hall-Southington answered.
“I thought we controlled the game,” said Cannon. “We were lucky we caught them on a day that they were missing a couple of key players.”
Hall-Southington entered the game with a three-game losing streak, including the team’s second straight loss to NW Catholic and a 3-0 shutout by conference rival Bolton-Coventry-Rockville on Friday night.
“I think that part of our poor performance last night was that these guys might have been looking past that game to this one,” said Cannon. “I warned them that they couldn’t get away with it, and they didn’t get away with it. B-C-R came out and played well. We didn’t, and the result was what it was.”
That wasn’t the case on Saturday. Each time Conard scored, Hall-Southington answered. Jarod Florian scored in the final minute of the first period to tie the game, 1-1. Valentukonis scored less than a minute and a half after Conard’s second goal, and that sparked a 4-0 rally that put the game out of reach.
“I think Conard deflated a little bit. They were missing key guys. Their depth goes down, and they had to go down on their bench where they may not normally have to go,” said Cannon. “We were able to eventually get a little momentum going and get some advantages going to go our way.”
Justin Rose scored the game-winner with 1:44 left in the second period. Owen Kantor and Rose scored third period goals to put the game out of reach, and Jeff Moore made 23 saves to get the win. Conard was held scoreless in the game’s final period.
“Our kids were keyed up about this, and I know Conard’s were too,” said Cannon. “The coaches were trying to keep them down and treat it like another game, but there was no keeping them down. All the kids on both sides were very excited about this game… Hopefully, we’ll take this momentum forward because even I was getting down after our third loss.”
Rose finished with two goals and an assist. Kantor and Lerner each finished with a goal and two assists. Will Thompson, Florian, Patterson, and Fleming each scored assists in the victory.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak and marked the third game in four days for the Warrior-Knights.
“Today we were able to regain energy skating on tired legs, and we didn’t look too tired,” said Cannon. “We were able to gain some momentum and get some advantages, and when we scored the go-ahead goal in the final minutes of the second period it kind of deflated them a little bit. Thankfully we were able to build on it.”
With the victory, the Warrior-Knights (10-4-0) moved back into second place in division three with 36 points and just four points behind Newington-Berlin-Manchester atop the division three standings.
They co-op be tested each step of the way with games against Masuk (8-4) on Wednesday and a rematch against B-C-R on Saturday.
“I hope that we’re going to take this and move forward, but we have no easy games at all,” said Cannon. “Every game we’ve got is going to be a dogfight.”
Rose echoed his coach’s sentiments. “This was huge. This is going to get us going,” he said. “We slowed down a little bit, lost focus, but I think this game is going to get us going again.”
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