Shorthanded In More Ways Than One: Hockey Team Beaten In Championship Game
WEST HAVEN — The third-seeded Newtown-New Fairfield high school hockey team fell 4-1 to the tpp-seeded Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury (BBD) team in the Southern Connecticut Conference/South-West Conference Division III championship game, at West Haven’s Bennett Rink, on Saturday, March 27.
The Nighthawks trailed 1-0 late in the first period before James Celentano followed up his initial shot on goal following a rush through the neutral zone, knotting the score 1-1 with only 23 seconds left in the stanza.
This game was close for the better part of two periods but, ultimately, being shorthanded — both on the bench and on the ice — proved costly for the Nighthawks.
BBD notched three consecutive power play tallies, two in the second period and one in the third, for the triumph. Kyle Boller and Anthony Britton each scored twice for the Icecats.
Newtown-New Fairfield and BBD were fairly even in terms of scoring opportunities. In fact, the underdog and undermanned Nighthawks, who were without two key defenders, controlled the play at times and, in the end, finished with a 33-31 shots on goal advantage.
Nighthawk goaltender Markus Paltauf made several big saves, including during flurries of BBD chances.; most of the BBD chances came in clusters.
Phil Makris did his usual stick-handling and sharp skating to create opportunities, and Newtown’s power play line of Celentano, Cam Gouveia, and Gio Cucco on offense and Makris and Eli Kirby on the blue line, created several chances during the lone two-minute advantage to no avail.
Newtown-New Fairfield was shorthanded on the bench with two of its top defensemen sidelined — one due to coronavirus protocol quarantine and the other stemming from a disqualification from the 3-2 semifinal win over the Milford co-op squad two days earlier.
Newtown Coach Paul Esposito and the Nighthawks appealed the suspension on an official’s call for kicking, which Esposito said he was disappointed was not overturned given game video showed a kicking penalty did not happen, and Milford team members backed up the Nighthawks, the coach added.
The Nighthawks ended up shorthanded quite a bit in the pinnacle game, with six penalty kill situations versus just one power play advantage.
“It was two teams out there. Unfortunately, we were killing penalties,” Esposito said. “You work hard all year and you expect better outcomes.”
On the bright side, the Nighthawks — minus key blue-liners John O’Sullivan and Ronan McAllister in the title game — got to play the maximum number of possible games in a winter during which some squads never got to finish what they started. That included conference D-I teams Fairfield Prep and Notre Dame-West Haven unable to compete in their championship due to coronavirus protocol.
“The outcome wasn’t what we wanted but we should be happy we had the opportunity and were fortunate to get a full season in,” Esposito acknowledged, adding that he said to his team members in the locker room following the game: “You had the opportunity to play a championship game. Not everyone gets to do that.”
“They gave 100 percent throughout the whole game, shorthanded on the bench. We had to shuffle our lineup around,” said Esposito, adding that one of the key moves was pushing Makris back from offense to help anchor the defense. “The kids played their hearts out. They’re upset.”