By BRIAN JENNINGS
In the co-op’s first challenge of the CIAC Division II tournament brackets, the 13th-seeded Warrior-Knights were one and done. On Tuesday, March 6, Hall-Southington fell by one goal, 2-1, to No. 4 Conard in the first round at Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford.
Hall-Southington Head Coach Brian Cannon said that the outcome of the game was pretty much what he pictured with a tentative first period.
“Everyone was testing the water and feeling it out,” said Cannon. “No one wanted to go out of line.”
Michael DiPietro put the Warrior-Knights on the board first with a goal, assisted by Bobby Allan and Miles Aronow, within the first four minutes of the game. Conard’s Bryant Caron knotted the score moments later and ultimately put the Chieftains on top for good with a goal midway through the second.
Cannon said that he thought his team outplayed the Chieftains the first time around when they settled with a 1-1 tie with them during the regular season. But he said that he thought Conard outplayed the Warrior-Knights in Tuesday’s rematch.
“I thought Conard was a little faster than us today,” said Cannon. “I thought that they covered the ice better than us. All anyone needed was one or two bounces, and it could’ve gone either way.”
Hall-Southington’s closest scoring opportunity to tie the game would come with just under seven minutes to play in regulation when DiPietro beat two defenders on a fast break towards the net. Conard’s goalie came out of the crease and collided with DiPietro, as the loose puck hit off the post and glided across the goal line towards the boards. Miles Aronow was on the open side.
“I praying that I was going to see him (Aronow) dive,” said Cannon. “The puck dribbled across the line from six inches out to two inches out when it got to the post, and all it needed was a touch, but we couldn’t get anything on it.”
Zach Monti finished with 25 saves in the net, and Conard’s Shea Henderson finished with 28. The Chieftains committed the only penalty of the contest on a crosscheck.
Conard Head Coach Chris Tornaquindici said that there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that his team wasn’t going to play their game and come out with a win.
“It took us a little bit to find our legs,” said Tornaquindici. “We were a little hesitant, but once we got the equalizer right after they got the first one, we kind of took the momentum back and never really looked back, playing a good defensive game.”
Drew Booth attended Tuesday’s game and joined his teammates in shaking hands with Conard players following the loss. Cannon said that he didn’t expect to see Booth at the game, but said that it was really nice to have the injured player attend.
“He still has a lot of sensitivity to light, noise, and everything else,” said Cannon. “I’m glad he got here and hope that he doesn’t feel too bad when he gets out of here. He’s running on emotion being back here with the kids.”
Booth suffered a serious head injury after sustaining a hit against the boards from Conard’s Brendon Battiston in the first meeting between both teams during the regular season. Tornaquindici said that Battiston decided to take himself out of Tuesday’s game and said that Battiston thought he would give the Chieftains a better chance to win without him, in the light of the situation with Booth.
On Battiston’s behalf, Tornaquindici said that Battiston took the ultimate high road.
“He made a man’s decision as a young man, and he really should be commended for it,” said Tornaquindici. “That was his doing. He wrote a letter to the town and the folks on the other side. He really stepped up, and along with everyone else, I’m extremely proud of him.”
Cannon said that it was a hugely gracious gesture on the part of Battiston to basically recuse himself from the game.
“That’s a kid making a man’s decision,” said Cannon. “It was very hard for him, I’m sure. That kid is a ball of passion. He wants to be out there playing, and he took himself out.”
Tuesday’s game was originally scheduled to be played later in the day after school session hours, but West Hartford officials moved the cross-town rivalry to 1:10 p.m., while most Conard and Hall fans were still in school.
“I moved the game to 1:10 p.m., as I felt it would provide a safer environment for all student-athletes, coaches, and spectators,” said director of athletics of West Hartford public schools, Jason Siegal.
Conard (13-8-1) advanced to the quarterfinals where they defeated No. 5 North Branford, 2-1, in overtime and will now play top-seeded Farmington Valley (19-2-1) in the semifinals. Farmington Valley has scored a total of 18 goals in the state tournament thus far. The other semifinal matchup will include No. 2 Watertown-Pomperaug (18-3-1) against No. 3 Guilford (19-3).
Hall-Southington finished the season at 11-8-2, and although the Warrior-Knights played just one game in the state tournament, Cannon said that he thought it was, all-in-all, still a good season.
“There’s some games that we would like to have back,” said Cannon. “We could have played a lot better in some games. Some games we didn’t play well and won, and some games we played real well and didn’t win.”
For more in depth coverage, see our weekly print edition. To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.