By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Warrior-Knights (12-7) worked hard to get into the CCC South tournament after winning their regular season finale against a well-respected opponent, but all it took was one game in the conference tournament to turn their focus towards the Division III state tournament.
After an overtime win and a tough, conference game against a Division II opponent, Hall-Southington has earned some much needed rest. The team is scheduled to kick off the Division III state tournament as a 4-seed and will play No.13 Joel Barlow (8-11-1) in the first round at home on Monday, March 7 at 7pm.
NFI (17-3) is the top seed in the tournament. EO Smith-Tolland is the defending champion.
Knights get in on OT win
On Wednesday, March 2, Hall-Southington hosted EO Smith-Tolland (13-6-1) in their last game of the regular season, and the Warrior-Knights needed to win the contest in order to get into the conference tournament.
The Bucks controlled most of a scoreless first period, and penalties slowed down the Warrior-Knights throughout a scoreless second period, as they spent eight minutes in the box on four penalties.
“It kind of looked like the us of old,” said Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon. “We’ve done a really good job of staying out of the box this year, but it certainly could have been a factor.”
The Warrior-Knights started playing aggressive hockey in the third, making some headway, getting more shot opportunities, and controlling the puck in their zone. However, no goals would be scored, sending the game into overtime deadlocked, 0-0.
The Warrior-Knights came out attacking, carrying their physical play from the third into the extra period and acting as the aggressor.
The Bucks controlled the puck in the Warrior-Knights’ zone late in the period, but it was a blocked shot by Colby Glidden at right on the blue line that allowed a lone Jeremy Fortin to take the drifting puck up center ice on a fast break. With an opponent’s stick hooking one of his arms from behind, Fortin managed to deke past the goalie and sneak the puck through the five-hole for the game-winner with 1:41 remaining on the clock.
“It was going to come down to someone either getting a deflection or a blocked shot for a breakaway,” said Cannon. “He [Fortin] leapt out and they kind of tripped him. The referee said that he was going to end up with a penalty shot anyway if he didn’t score. But that was the best kid that could have happened to because he’s our fastest skater. You can also argue that he’s right there with our best finishers.”
Cannon said that his guys were shabby the first two periods, but they reached down in the last final two periods.
“They were dead in that locker room,” the coach said. “They were tired and didn’t have a lot of legs today. But they found something, came out, and woke up a little bit in the third period. We definitely created some offense and cleaned up the defensive zone a little bit. It came down to one break in the end.”
Cannon said that he thought the defensemen played very well in the game, but one defenseman that stood out for the Warrior-Knights was goalie Adam Faust. The sophomore came up with 30 saves for Hall-Southington, including a game-saving goal in overtime.
“He [Faust] was very good in the net and made some big stops,” said Cannon. “He gave us the chance to hang around long enough to get that fortunate break.”
The Warrior-Knights took 21 shots on goal and committed five penalties in the game.
The Bucks committed one penalty. Eamon Judkins saved 20 shots on goal for the Bucks.
Shut out at Old Farms
Due to a goal differential, the Warrior-Knights entered the conference tournament as a 4-seed in the South Division and were paired with No.1 Farmington Valley (13-7) in the semifinals, instead of having to play No.2 EO Smith-Tolland at UConn.
With just one day of rest, Hall-Southington traveled to Avon Old Farms and fell short to the Generals, 6-0.
The Generals scored two goals in every period, taking a total of 41 shots and committing five penalties. The Warrior-Knights took 20 shots on goal and committed seven penalties in the game. Faust saved (27) and Harry Freda (8) saved a combined 35 shots on goal for Hall-Southington and Connor Adams saved 20 shots for Farmington Valley.
“We were a couple of strong players short, which didn’t help us,” said Cannon. “That’s not an excuse, but that’s more a reflection on the spread. We just didn’t play well. We have trouble putting the puck on the net. We create chances, but they’re not always the quality that we like.”
Cannon said that playing an extra period the night before didn’t help either, while Farmington Valley had about a week to rest. The Warrior-Knights were also without the team’s leading goal scorer, Jarod Florian (17 goals on season), and Caelan Booth, due to injuries.
Farmington Valley eventually won the South Division title with a 5-2 win over EO Smith-Tolland at Koeppel Community Center at Trinity College in Hartford on Friday. The Bucks defeated No.3 BCR (8-12) in the semis, 2-0.