By John Goralski
Kevin Cop was knocked to the ground, but the senior forward still managed to flick the puck at the goalie. Less than a minute later, Will Amenebar reached out to catch a pass across the crease, drew the goalie out of position, and just missed the far corner of the net.
In the opening period, Hall-Southington actually out-skated the No. 2 seed. At the start of the second period, Cop and Amenebar came closest to breaking the scoreless tie.
On Thursday, March 13, the seventh ranked Warrior-Knights threw everything they could at the Newtown defenders at the Division III quarterfinals, but they couldn’t break through. The Bees struck first, midway through the second period, and the sting was felt on the Hall-Southington bench.
“I told the guys that they are going to have to take a bruise or a bump and do whatever they needed to do to make a play on the ice,” said Hall-Southington hockey coach Brian Cannon. “We weren’t able to do that, and that team did it a little better than us. They manage the ice very well.”
The Bees weren’t finished. At the start of the third period, senior skater Jonathan Lovorn capitalized twice. Ethan Shaefer connected with Dave Valentukonis to trim the deficit to 3-1, but the Bees added one more score in the final five minutes to put the game out of reach. Despite 20 saves by Erich Bender, the Warrior-Knights fell, 4-1.
With the loss, Hall-Southington’s season came to an end, but Cannon was pleased with his team’s efforts down the stretch.
“We’ve played some of our best hockey of the year recently,” said the coach. “The 4-1 score doesn’t show how close this game was, but they found the back of the net, and that’s what we didn’t do.”
That wasn’t the case in the opening round. Cop beat Woodstock’s goalie just 24 seconds into the game. By the end of the first minute, Jarod Florian had stretched the lead to 2-0. By the four minute mark Hall-Southington had built a 4-0 lead, but the Warrior-Knights were just getting started.
It was the team’s sixth game in nine days, and it was just two days after a third period collapse ended their run at a conference title. Cannon said that a fast start was just what the doctor ordered.
“We might have caught them with bus legs because I thought their goalie improved over the course of the game, but I like the way we came down and attacked,” said Cannon. “I’m glad the kids came out and lit it up right off the bat. They really needed a confidence boost after that Saturday loss.”
Florian powered the attack with three goals and an assist. Cop overwhelmed the Centaurs with two goals and two assists. Dylan Roach, Valentukonis, Matt Briscoe, and Cody Backus scored one goal apiece. Roach, Valentukonis (2), Brian Mahon (2), Caelan Booth, and Ethan Schaeffer collected assists.
Hall-Southington opened up a 5-0 lead by the end of the first period. The team raced to an 8-1 lead at the end of the second and held on for a 9-2 victory over Woodstock (6-10).
“I liked the way we came down and attacked,” said Cannon. “Coming out strong isn’t going to do it. We needed to come out and get results,” Cannon said. “I don’t want them hitting cruise control. We didn’t want to blow this team out simply because we had the opportunity, but because we’re trying to play for the next game [it was important]. Even though we can’t look there yet, we have to have good habits.”
Defensively, the Warrior-Knights held Woodstock to just two lone scores. Erich Bender made 14 saves in just over two periods, and Kyle Partiss made eight saves in relief. Each gave up a solo goal, but Cannon was pleased with both goaltenders.
“I think this was a good confidence builder for Erich,” said Cannon. “I didn’t want to take him out, but Partiss needs some time, and I thought he accorded himself well. With the goal he allowed, we kind of left him hanging.”
With the first round victory, the Warrior-Knights advanced in the postseason for the first time since 2009. The quarterfinal loss signaled the end of the winter campaign. The team finished over .500 (12-11-1) for the first time in four years.
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By John Goralski