By BRIAN JENNINGS
The coaching staff has been working on trying to get the team to move the puck faster and smother opponents with the floor check for most of the season. They haven’t been able to get it out of them, except for minor spurt here or there.
After a 4-4 tie at WMRP, Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon said that he sat down with his coaching staff and revaluated the team. He made the statement that this team was the worst team he’s ever had after they let WMRP out of the zone with no resistance.
After seeing the Hall-Southington against BCR and East Haven-Old Lyme-Old Saybrook-East Hampton however, Cannon might be retracting his statement.
The co-op has come full circle, punctuated by a pair of wins last week that clinched a tournament berth. Cannon said the two biggest differences were offensive zone play between the floor check and the puck and getting out of the neutral zone quick.
“We’re trying to play the puck where we don’t have to wait, turn around, or slow down for it,” said Cannon. “This is what we’ve been drilling, but they’ve been resisting. This is the game that we want them playing. This is what we were doing at the end of last year. This is what gave us success and what will give us success this year.”
Is this a sign of things to come, or is it just a fluke? Only time will tell. But one thing for sure is that Hall-Southington clinched a playoff berth in the state tournament for the seventh-straight year in their first season competing in Division II since Hall won the Division II title as a solo team in 1993.
“Hopefully, we seed well, so that we can get a game or two in,” said Cannon. “Who knows? It depends on who we run into, and how we play on that given night. But if we play like we did against East Haven, we’re a handful for anyone.”
The Warrior-Knights will be back on the ice this week when they travel to DiLungo Rink in East Haven to take on East Haven-Old Lyme-Old Saybrook-East Hampton (6-5-1) on Saturday, Feb. 10 in their lone game of the week. Game time is 1 p.m. Hall-Southington is currently 8-4-1.
The Warrior-Knights began the week on Wednesday, Jan. 31 by earning their fourth shutout of the season with a 3-0 triumph over East Haven-Old Lyme-Old Saybrook-East Hampton at home. In arguably their best and most complete game of the season, the Warrior-Knights controlled possession in their opponent’s zone for the majority of the contest, as their physicality and swift movement of the puck didn’t allow the Yellowjackets many shots on goal.
“Our kids probably played the best they’ve played this season,” said Cannon. “They knew they were going to be up against a very tough team, and they responded. We’ve been working on that game all season and haven’t seen it, but the kids brought it to the rink tonight for three periods.”
Jake Albert paced the offense with a pair of goals, both coming in the second period.
“He’s had some tough luck scoring,” said Cannon. “Sometimes, it’s people not getting him the puck, missing the net, or the miracle save. But whatever it is, that kid’s gone out every game fearlessly and has been kicked, scratched, and punched for the team. He’s taken a beating, but it’s nice to see the kid put a couple of pucks in the net to validate the effort that he puts in each game.”
Albert also assisted Christian Mohr with Hall-Southington’s first goal in the opening period. Drew Booth and Michael DiPietro contributed with an assist each.
In his first game back in the net after missing the last two contests, Zach Monti saved 19 shots on goal.
“I thought he played well,” said Cannon. “I thought he was tracking the puck. There were a lot of screened shots and traffic in front of him. I thought he did a good job finding the puck and getting something in front of him.”
Hall-Southington took 30 shots on goal and committed four of the game’s six penalties, with three coming in the second period.
The Warrior-Knights capped off the week on Saturday by qualifying for the Division II and CCC South Tournaments, earning their third-straight win with a 5-1 rout of divisional EO Smith-Tolland at home.
Following a scoreless first period, Nate Zmarlicki and Anthony Abbatiello gave the Warrior-Knights a 2-1 advantage with goals in the second. Then the floodgates opened.
The Warrior-Knights clocked out and finished their shift with three goals in the third. Albert hit Zmarlicki on a backdoor pass to beat the goalie for his second score of the game. Bobby Allan wrapped the puck around the goalie off a rebound on a shot by DiPietro. And Jacob Mohr found Andrew Mitchell near the blue line for a deep, fluttering shot that snuck past the goalie and found the back of the net.
“We didn’t play all that great in the first two periods, and part of the credit for that has to go to EO,” said Cannon. “Maybe we tired them out a little bit in the third period, but we did start making smarter plays, which helped.”
Monti saved 28 shots in the net. Hall-Southington took 36 shots on goal and committed four of the eight penalties in the contest.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2018/02/06/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-feb-9-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.