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The North Branford boys' ice hockey team used its size and quickness to beat Hand 3-1 despite being on the penalty kill seven times in its matchup at Northford Ice Pavilion on Jan. 16.
Center Dylan Podbielski scored two goals-one short-handed and the other on the power play-to help North Branford improve to 7-2 (3-0 in SCC Division II). Podbielski teamed with Alec Martone on the penalty kill to force plenty of turnovers and net two goals for the T-Birds while down a man.
"The past couple of years we've tried to implement a diamond strategy for our penalty kill and this year we really have the personnel in me and Alec.We play really well together and have great chemistry," Podbielski said. "If we can get it going, it works pretty well as you can see as tonight we ended up putting two goals in, which was our offense for the night."
The constant pressure North Branford had on Hand caused plenty of turnovers in the offensive zone, leading them to get 25 shots on goal.
Hand (5-3-2, 2-1), despite being on the power play seven times, was only able to put the puck on net 18 times in the game. Even though the Tigers were on the power play for most of the contest, North Branford came away with more scoring opportunities.
"We do work a lot in practice about special teams, especially on the penalty kill, to outwork the other team's power play, so I thought we did a great job tonight of doing that," said North Branford Coach Ralph Shaw.
Hand got on the board first with a 5-on-5 goal from freshman Sam LaFontaine from the left hash early in the second period. He received a pass from Danny Braumann and put the puck past North Branford goaltender Kyle Saroka (17 saves). From that point on, it was all North Branford, despite the seven penalties, which all came after this point in the game.
North Branford killed off a 5-on-3 penalty, then scored the game-tying goal just 13 seconds after its first man came out of the box. Martone stole the puck from a Hand defender behind the net, threw the puck on net, and Podbielski tapped home the rebound.
"I have to give most of the credit to Martone," Podbielski said. "He was busting his behind from behind the net and, when I saw him start to get control of the puck, I saw a lane and cut in. He took a shot and I was right there for the rebound."
Two-and-a-half minutes later, the duo combined for the team's second short-handed goal. Hand tried to work the puck out of its defensive zone, but Podbielski stole the puck at the blue line. After Hand goaltender Chase Briggs (22 saves) made the initial save on the 2-on-0 opportunity, Podbielski found Martone wide open in front of the empty net to bury the game-winning goal.
"It was just an all-out hard-working effort," Martone said. "Dylan worked hard getting the puck, drop-passed to me, the puck squirted back out, spun around shot, rebound."
North Branford killed off another three penalties in the third period before scoring its decisive third goal with six seconds remaining, putting the game out of reach. It was a strange end to the game, though, as the puck never found the back of the net. Podbielski took the puck at his defensive blue line and skated toward the empty net ready to tap in the goal. He was hit by a stick sliding across the ice, which resulted in an automatic goal for North Branford.
Said Podbielski: "I was expecting a nice easy goal to finish the win, but when I saw that come in, I was a bit flabbergasted."