T-Birds Fall to Rival Hornets in DII Semis

Senior captain forward Tyler Deming and the T-Birds' ice hockey squad saw its sensational season end with a 5-3 loss to Branford in the Division II State Tournament semifinals.

One phrase used a lot in our society is "coming full circle" as many evoke the saying to describe something which benefits our lives and gives us a sense of rejuvenation, rebirth, and revival.

For the North Branford hockey team, this common expression created the opposite sentiment as the T-Birds' postseason ended the same way their regular season begam-with a loss to crosstown rival Branford. The No. 3 seeded T-Birds were clipped by the seventh-seeded Hornets 5-3 on March 12 in the semifinals of the Division II State Tournament at Ingalls Rink. The Thunderbirds got off to a lightning quick start by scoring the first two goals of the game, but were done in by four first-period goals from Branford, three of which were scored in the span of 62 seconds.

"Both teams came out with a sense of urgency," said North Branford senior defenseman and captain Sam Amendola. "We made a few mistakes defensively and Branford capitalized offensively on them while we did not, plain and simple."

North Branford Head Coach Ralph Shaw added: "We jumped out to a quick start with those couple of goals. But to their credit, Branford is a good team and they came back with the three goals, which definitely stunned us a little bit."

In this postseason rubber match between the two rivals, the Thunderbirds (13-9-1) struck first and early with a goal 1:13 into the contest by senior forward Chris Burkle after a pass from freshman forward Alec Martone. They then padded the lead to 2-0 at 5:01 after junior forward Dylan Podbielski found the back of the net with help from Burkle and Martone. It seemed the Thunderbirds were ready to fly high into the final until Branford struck with its first goal from Rob Celentano at 6:41 with an assist from fellow senior forward Austin Hackett. The Hornets truly began to swarm in on North Branford with goals from sophomore forward Tony Pascale, freshman Tyler Hackett, and Celentano to take a 4-2 lead heading into the first intermission.

"When they scored those three goals, we thought it was time to put up or shut up," Amendola said.

Shaw added: "I told the guys in the locker room that we played well in the first period, minus the 62 seconds. I also told them that we can't have mental lapses and we had to get pucks to the net and create traffic in front of it."

After holding Branford to no goals after a scoreless second period, the Thunderbirds clawed back into the game 1:15 into the third when Martone lit the lamp and the fire for his squad on assists from Podbielski and sophomore defenseman Nick Johnson to cut the deficit to 4-3. Despite the strong efforts of junior goalie Kyle Saroka and his 13 saves, Branford put the game on ice with a goal from Pascale 3:10 into the final frame.

Despite the disappointing loss to end the season, the Thunderbirds will use it as fuel to remain optimistic about the future of the program.

"Overall, I thought we played well together," Amendola said after his final game with the program. "Hopefully, the underclassmen will remember the feeling of this big loss and use it as a motivational tool."

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