By KEVIN ROBERTS
Hall-Southington ice hockey’s regular season ended on Feb. 23, but there wound up being two more games to play. The Warrior-Knights were the No. 4 team in the top four in the CCC South Division, and that meant a chance to play in the conference tournament.
Hall-Southington faced CCC South top seed Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville on Feb. 28 at Newington Ice Arena and emerged with a 5-4 overtime victory. The game ended in a Warrior-Knight celebration when Bobby Allan ripped a wicked wrister past the glove of the Eagle goalie with 6:31 left in overtime.
Hall-Southington played EO Smith in the CCC South championship game, which took place this past Saturday night at the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum at UConn. The Freitas Ice Forum is the home of EO Smith hockey, and there were plenty of Panther fans clad in red at the game. Hall-Southington fans had plenty of cheer for as the visitors claimed a two-goal lead in the second period, but the home side ripped off seven of the game’s final eight goals to win 9-5.
Allan had two goals for the Warrior-Knights while Sam Kursman, Duncan Hollander and Mason Woods each scored one goal. Sam Kerrigan and Chris Gambardella both had two assists while Allan, Kursman, Liam Stone and Sean Roach added one assist apiece. Noah Behrens-Gould made 35 saves.
The two CCC South tournament games were a tale of Hall-Southington’s season. The Warrior-Knights played well early, jumped ahead, then let their opponent back into the game with penalties. Hall-Southington was able to win against WMRP, but the penalties killed them in the loss to EO Smith.
In the WMRP game, the Warrior-Knights committed a penalty just 33 seconds into overtime. There was another penalty later on in the overtime period, but the Eagles couldn’t take advantage of the power play opportunities. Allan took advantage of his even-strength chance, and the Warrior-Knights lived to play another night.
“All of a sudden at the end, it’s a roulette game. Who’s going to get the bounce, where’s the ball gonna land?” coach Brian Cannon said after the WMRP win. “We happened to get the bounce, even though it wasn’t a bounce. It was a nice play, it was carried in, a nice finish. Bobby had a huge night, hit the net with his shots, got himself in position to take good shots, and he buried them. He walks out of here with three [goals], that’s a huge game.”
Nate Zmarlicki scored two goals for Hall-Southington, and Behrens-Gould came up with some clutch saves.
“It’s nice, they extend their season. Now they’re really playing for something,” Cannon said.
The Warrior-Knights suffered a big loss, however, when senior captain Michael DiPietro dislocated his shoulder after being tripped in the third period. There was no penalty called on the play, and DiPietro could only watch from the Hall-Southington bench this past Saturday when his teammates faced EO Smith.
The Warrior-Knights struck for the first goal, then the Panthers claimed the next two for a 2-1 lead. Hall-Southington ripped off the next three goals, however, and led 4-2 with 4:19 left in the second period. After that, the penalties started, and so did the avalanche of EO Smith goals.
“This is not an unbeatable team, but they put together a better game after they woke up a little bit,” Cannon said of EO Smith. “We opened the door, and they filled it with pucks.”
Hall-Southington had a five-minute major, and a two-minute minor, called after an altercation on the boards with 2:45 left in the second period. EO Smith had one two-minute minor called during the same altercation. During the five-minute major, the Panthers scored three times to take a 5-4 lead. The Warrior-Knights tied the game, 5-5, with 13:08 left in the third period, but the home team scored the game’s last four goals. EO Smith senior Owen Stacey was a terror during that stretch, recording an assist on each of the four goals. Stacey had seven assists for the game.
“He’s always moving, he refuses to give up on the play,” Cannon said. “He is absolutely driven, and he’s a good player. He’s smart, and so here he goes, he’s ok if everybody chases him.”
Stacey moved the puck all over the ice with a combination of speed and skill. Bryan Roy had a hat trick for EO Smith while Gavin Till and Tyler Harakaly each added two goals. Till also had five assists in the game.
After a tough regular season, Hall-Southington used a dramatic overtime win to set up a chance to play for something. The Warrior-Knights wound up losing their last game because of the penalties that plagued them throughout the regular season.
“We came out and played relatively decent hockey in the first period,” Cannon said. “Then we started with the penalties, and you can’t survive it. In the past, we had a penalty kill that was a weapon, and we scored more goals on the penalty kill than we did with our power play. We don’t have that same kind of unit, and we’re still taking too many penalties.”
The CCC South final was the last game for Hall-Southington seniors Chris Gambardella, Kent Silva, Ethan Penn, Sam Kerrigan, Nate Zmarlicki, Michael Kwok, Sam Kursman and Tyler Matukaitis. Gambardella was a captain along with the injured Michael DiPietro, and Zmarlicki served as an alternate captain.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com