NEW HAVEN – Newtown High School’s hockey program waited more than a dozen years – and then an extra hour or so when the team bus broke down – to reach a state tournament semifinal round game.
Then it took all of 25 game seconds for the Nighthawks to score, and the team never looked back after that quick strike en route to a 6-1 triumph over Tri-Town in the Division III state tournament semifinals at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink on March 18.
Second-seeded Newtown will face No. 4 EO Smith-Tolland in the Saturday, March 22 championship game. The pinnacle battle, which will also be held at Ingalls Rink, will begin at 10 am.
“It feels surreal. I can’t believe it yet,” said Newtown senior Dan Harrison, who scored the first and last goal in the semifinal-round triumph.
The Nighthawks used a pair of early-period strikes to put away a game they controlled basically from the opening faceoff. Harrison crashed the goal mouth and cashed in when he banged home a loose puck less than a half minute following the opening faceoff to set the tone.
It remained 1-0 until Zach Waller added to the lead just 45 seconds into the second period. Hayden Savoia added a net-finder on a wrist shot from the slot midway through the second. No. 11 Tri-Town, based in Enfield, scored late in the second, then narrowly missed closing to within a goal when a waning-second shot clanked off the cross bar.
Newtown put the game away with a trio of third-period goals. Jon Lovorn went end to end and weaved his way through the defense before whipping home a high shot to make it 4-1 with 8:12 to play. Connor Hanley worked his way in front from behind the goal line and tucked the puck between the pads of Tri-Town goaltender Alexander Bliesener to make it 5-1 with 6:09 left. Lovorn later used his speed to skate wide and center to Harrison for another tally.
The Hawks had a 12-8 shots on goal edge after one period of play but held Tri-Town to only seven pucks on net the rest of the night and finished the game with a decisive 41-15 advantage. Newtown controlled the tempo – and the puck – throughout most of the game.
“I’ve never seen our team play this well. We’re getting hot at the right time,” said Newtown goaltender Patrick McLoughlin, who made several big stops to help keep his team’s hold on a slim lead in early going.
Newtown and EO Smith-Tolland played to a 1-1 tie during the regular season and, now, will have a chance to settle the score with everything on the line.
“They’re a fast, hard-hitting team,” Newtown senior Matt Sabia said. “It’s going to be a good battle and I’m really looking forward to it.”
“It’s a fantastic feeling to finally make it to the big show,” said Esposito, noting that the program reached its first state tourney semifinal in its 13 years.
Esposito said the outcome will depend on which team wants it more, benefits from some favorable bounces, and executes its game plan the best.
Newtown's charter bus broke down on the way to the rink and the Hawks flagged down a school bus carrying student fans from Newtown High. The fans kindly traded places with the skaters who boarded the yellow bus to get to the rink an hour after they'd planned. Newtown's fans, after a short wait, boarded a second charter bus which was on its way, originally to pick up the players, Esposito said.
For more coverage of the semifinal round win, and additional photos, check out the March 21 print edition of The Bee.