Everyone at the packed Northford Ice Pavilion likely expected the usual nip-and-tuck tussle when Branford and North Branford ice hockey faced off on Jan. 30. Instead, what they got was a surprisingly one-sided affair that saw the Hornets net five goals in the first period en route to a 7-1 triumph in SCC Division II action.
Tyler Hackett lit the lamp just 32 seconds into the game, immediately silencing the T-Birds' faithful and setting the tone for a offensive onslaught that saw five different Hornets net goals in the opening frame. Hackett and fellow sophomore center Tyler Criscuolo each had a goal with an assist for Branford, which also received two goals from senior captain wing Rob Klouda and one each by senior captain defenseman Rob Petrillo, junior wing Jason Vitale, and sophomore wing Cooper Bunton.
"This is becoming a big rivalry and a good battle after we played three times last year, including that game in the state semis [which Branford won]," said Petrillo, who captains the Hornets with Klouda and senior center Pat Day. "North Branford is a good team who had won their last eight games and so it was important that we get the jump on them. We brought our A-game and played our best."
Sophomore goalie Alessandro Sarno made 19 saves for the Hornets, including stopping sophomore Alec Martone on a penalty shot in the second period. There were a whopping 22 penalties called in this physical contest and, although Branford was whistled for more than the T-Birds by taking 13, Adolph Brink's squad scored three power-play goals to North Branford's one in improving to 5-5-2 overall and 2-0-2 in SCC DII. The Hornets need two more wins to make states.
"You never want to lose to a team that plays in your rink," said Brink of the T-Birds, who hosted this game between two squads who call the Pavilion their home. "We can really be an explosive team and, once we went up 5-0, we were able to settle in a little and force them to press, which they didn't want to do."
For North Branford, the defeat indeed ended their eight-game win streak, dropping them to 10-3 overall and 3-1 in SCC DII action. Coach Ralph Shaw's club earned its lone goal in third period when Nik Castaldi scored from fellow senior captain Dylan Podbielski and junior Brendan Appi.
"Branford came out motivated, we were a little flatfooted, and I think those few quick scores deflated us. There was still a lot of hockey left after the first and we were looking to chip away, but we just never recovered," said Shaw. "We have to put this game behind us and focus on playing three good periods of hockey starting today."
Branford showed it was going to play an outstanding period of hockey in the first frame by netting a quintet of goals, starting when Hackett chipped one backhanded past T-Birds' senior captain keeper Kyle Saroka (21 saves) while many were still settling into their seats. About five minutes later, Criscuolo had a clear view of Saroka to the goalie's left and went top shelf right for a 2-0 advantage. After Martone was called for a tripping penalty, the Hornets converted on the power play when Hackett passed to Petrillo, who beat Saroka to make it 3-0 with 5:52 to go in the first. North Branford then got its chance on the power play after Criscuolo was called for high-sticking, although Sarno denied Castaldi on the T-Birds' lone shot on goal during the man-advantage. A few minutes after that, Saroka made a nice glove save to halt a Criscuolo shot, but right off the subsequent face off, Criscuolo passed to Bunton, who blasted one home for a 4-0 Branford lead. Vitale then scored off a rebound with 27 seconds remaining, sending the squads to the locker rooms with the Hornets ahead 5-0.
The second period featured a slew of penalties, one of which—an interference infraction against North Branford senior captain Kris Marra—led to Klouda's goal from junior wing Tony Pascale and a 6-0 command 4:32 into the frame. Shortly thereafter, Hornets' sophomore defenseman Pat Cunningham tripped Martone from behind on a breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot. With the tension as thick as the ice, Sarno stopped Martone's offering with his chest, preserving the shutout for Branford. Then with 4:38 left in the second, Klouda scored a wrap-around goal from Vitale for the Hornets' seventh and final score.
"This win means a lot and we played a good all-around game," said Vitale. "We had a lot of fans come out to support us, we scored early, Sarno made some nice saves, and our third line [of Day, junior Shane Murphy, and sophomore Jack Murray] did a good job of keeping the puck down low. One thing we need to do is stay out of penalty box."
Indeed, for despite all the positives for Branford in this game, one negative was when Jordan Criscuolo was called for a 10-minute misconduct after some roughhousing with Podbielski late in the game. Coach Brink, Vitale, and Petrillo all agreed that the Hornets can make another run at the Division II state title they came so close to last year if they refrain from taking too many penalties while bringing the same effort that led to this lopsided win against the rival T-Birds.
Said Petrillo: "If we play like we did in the first two periods tonight, we'll do fine from here on out."