By BRIAN JENNINGS
With their semifinal victory in the CCC South tournament, the Warrior-Knights looked like they did before they lost their teammate, Drew Booth, during a controversial injury at the hands of Conard during a regular season rivalry. But a lopsided loss in the title game raised some questions as they head into the state brackets.
Is Hall-Southington ready for a first-round rematch against the team that hurt their star player? Can this group of high school athletes block out the rumors and controversy swirling around the rink as they get ready for their first Division II tournament? Coach Brian Cannon said that he can see the strain affecting his players.
“Our concentration is just not where it normally is, and what follows is your energy and execution levels,” said Cannon. “We’re never the smoothest team out there, but we usually find a way to execute far better than how we have been executing lately.”
Following the six-hour neurosurgery that Booth underwent on Monday, Feb. 26, Cannon said that he is currently out of the intensive care unit. He’s in a room now and has done a little bit of walking, according to Cannon.
“I think he’s been able to eat a little bit,” said Cannon. “I’m told that he looks good, which is nice, but there’s still a whole lot of injury that’s going to take forever to heal. It’s going to be a long hard road to recovery.”
The Warrior-Knights will enter the Division II Tournament as the 13th seed with an 11-7-2 record and will play No. 4 Conard (11-8-1) in the first round on Tuesday, Mar. 6 at Veterans Memorial Ice Rink in West Hartford. Farmington Valley is the top seed. No. 3 Guilford (17-3) is the defending champion.
Tuesday’s game was originally scheduled to be played later in the day after school session hours, but Cannon said that the game was moved up to 1:10 p.m. in the effort to take the crowd pressures out of the mix. Booth’s injury came during a penalty inflicted by a Conard player, and Cannon said that it was partly influenced by heavily populated student sections.
Cannon said that his team is only looking for a clean game when Hall-Southington meets Conard in the first round of the postseason.
“I think that the players on each team are okay, with one exception,” said Cannon. “The problems are not going to be generated on the ice. Any problems would have to happen with outside people.”
The Warrior-Knights drew a 1-1 tie with the Chieftains last time both teams met during the regular season, and in order for the Warrior-Knights to advance past the first round, Cannon said that they have to get back on track and back to hockey, putting aside all the outside stuff that they’ve been going through this past week.
“We need to take two hours with nothing, but concentrating on the game at hand, so that we’re not draining all that emotion and energy out of our bodies,” said Cannon. “But that’s asking a lot. They’re kids, and they’re in a spot that they don’t want to be in that no one ever asked for.”
The second-seeded Warrior-Knights fell short in the conference championship after suffering a 6-1 loss to top-seeded Enfield-East Granby-Stafford at the Koeppel Community Sports Center in Hartford on Saturday, Mar. 3. The Enfield co-op team swept Hall-Southington, 2-0 and 2-1 in overtime, during the regular season.
Cannon said that he didn’t expect the goal differential to be as high as it was, and not to take anything away from Enfield, his team did a lot of beating of themselves on Saturday night.
“We left way too many scraps and opportunities for them to feed off of. They did a good job capitalizing on them,” said Cannon. “They didn’t leave us what we would have liked to have, and we didn’t take advantage of what we did generate and have.”
The Warrior-Knights held their own early on until the Eagles snuck the game’s first goal in just before the end of the first period. Then the Eagles blew the game open with four more scores before Nate Zmarlicki netted Hall-Southington’s lone goal of the game, assisted by Jake Albert, midway through the third.
Hall-Southington committed four of the eight penalties in the contest.
The Eagles advanced to the final with a 6-3 win over No. 4 Newington Co-op. In the CCC North championship, No. 3 NW Catholic upset top-seeded Farmington Valley, 3-2, in overtime.
The Warrior-Knights advanced to the final by a goal, 4-3, over No. 3 EO Smith-Tolland at home on Thursday. Hall-Southington swept the EO Smith-Tolland, 3-1 and 5-1, during the regular season.
The Bucks scored the lone goal of the opening period to take an early lead, but the Warrior-Knights outscored the Bucks in the second to take a one-goal advantage entering the third. Jake Albert swooped in with a defender on him from the right side and backhanded a shot off the post. The puck skidded across the crease behind the goalie and found Graham Kennedy on the other side for the team’s first score.
Miles Aronow centered the puck from down in the corner to Michael DiPietro who scored the team’s second goal on a one-timer. Aronow and DiPietro were back at it moments later for the third go-ahead goal on a pass that went around boards and ended with DiPietro curling around the net to score a wrister. Andrew Mitchell capped off the win with an empty-net goal from around center ice with a little over a minute remaining in regulation before the Bucks cut the deficit to one with a goal seconds later.
Zach Monti finished with 16 saves in the net. Hall-Southington took 27 shots on goal and committed two of the four penalties in the contest.
For more in depth coverage, see our weekly print edition. To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.