By BRIAN JENNINGS
Before the season began, Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon stated that he didn’t know what to expect out of his Warrior-Knight ice hockey team.
It could have been a rebuilding year, a .500 season, or a conference contender. In a preseason interview, the coach said that he didn’t expect his team to make it as far as they did last year when they advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division III tournament and fell to the eventual champion, Westhill-Stamford.
He never predicted this.
After being ousted quickly from the CCC South regional tournament in their first postseason game, the Warrior-Knights barely escaped the first round of the state brackets. But the team was just getting started.
With a convincing victory in the CIAC Division III quarterfinals, the Warrior-Knights surged into the semifinals for the first time in co-op history. Now in the final four, Hall-Southington is in uncharted waters.
“I’m very happy to be going down to New Haven,” said Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon. “Can we win it? Who knows? But we’re going to get there, and that was the goal for this year. If we can get to the final, then it leaves it up to anyone’s game.”
Cannon said that, even with the quarterfinal victory, his team hasn’t played their best hockey. Hall-Southington surged past No. 3 Housatonic-Northwestern in a Danbury quarterfinal on Thursday, March 6, but Cannon is hoping that the best is yet to come.
“I thought we played our A-minus game,” said Cannon. “I’m never fully satisfied, but I thought that the kids executed the game plan very well.”
Following a scoreless first period, Jacob Mohr (2), Michael DiPietro, and Jacob Herz gave the Warrior-Knights a 4-1 advantage with goals in the second and third periods. The Mountaineers scored their lone goal if the game moments after the Warrior-Knights scored the first goal of the third period.
Graham Kennedy and Miles Aronow capped off the win with goals later in the period. Aronow’s goal came with 35 seconds remaining in the game.
“The only thing I wanted to see was us going forward and attacking the puck carrier a little more assertively,” the coach said. “Our forwards did a little too much backing up, but it was minor. We tried to match up with them as best as we could, and our guys did a good job of containing their more-skilled guys when they came up the ice.”
Jeremy Fortin (2), Brendan Moore, Drew Booth, Andrew Mitchell, Nate Zmarlicki, DiPietro, and Mohr contributed with assists. Zach Monti saved 18 shots on goal. Hall-Southington took 41 shots on goal and committed four out of the six penalties in the contest.
Despite their lopsided win in the quarterfinals, Hall-Southington barely escaped the first round. On Monday, March 6, the sixth-seeded Warrior-Knights needed overtime to eke a 4-3 win over No. 11 Newington Co-op on their home ice.
“We came out flat and struggled against a strong Newington effort,” said Cannon. “It took until our backs were to the wall, and then we played with a desperation that overwhelmed tired their players. We caught a couple of breaks and managed to prevail.”
Drew Booth gave the Warrior-Knights a 1-0 lead with a goal midway through the first period. The Indians responded with a 3-0 run that included goals in each of the three periods.
Nate Zmarlicki cut the deficit to one with a score early in the third period, and Andrew Mitchell knotted the contest with just 1:06 remaining in the game. In the extra period, Michael DiPietro and Booth set Jeremy Fortin up to score the game-winning goal at 12:49, sending the Warrior-Knights into the quarterfinals.
Zach Monti saved 15 shots on goal. Colby Glidden, Brendan Moore, Fortin, and Dusty Kilgore also contributed with assists. Hall-Southington took 27 shots on goal and committed six of the nine penalties in the contest.
With the victory in the next round, the team reached the semifinals for the first time as a co-op. The last time Hall made it to the semifinals was 1993, and they won it all. Can they do it again?
The Warrior-Knights were originally scheduled to play No. 2 Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville (19-3) in the semifinals on Tuesday, March 14, but inclement weather pushed the game to Thursday, March 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Ingalls Rink in New Haven. The Eagles swept the Warrior-Knights during the regular season with 6-5 and 4-1 wins.
It’s tough to beat a team three-straight times in one season, but Cannon said that he still thinks his Warrior-Knights can beat the Eagles. But they’ve got to bring no less than their A-minus game, and probably even more than that.
“Whoever is able to impose their will, getting through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone is going to win that game,” the coach said. “I thought it was pretty even the first time we played them. But the second time, they outdid us at that.”
The other semifinal game will feature top-seeded Woodstock Academy (19-2-1) against No. 5 Lyman Hall-Haddam-Killingworth-Coginchaug (12-10), scheduled right after Hall-Southington’s game for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Ingalls Rink. Hall-Southington is currently 11-8-3 overall.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (http://southingtonobserver.com/2017/03/15/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-march-17-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.