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For the Hand Tigers’ boys’ ice hockey squad, its 5-2 start to the season has skated into a bit of a standstill. Coming into their Jan. 18 home matchup with Guilford, the Tigers had not won in their last three contests, tying both SCC foes in East Haven and North Haven before dropping a decision to another SCC rival in North Branford Jan. 16. If Hand was to get back into a winning way, it would have to do so versus Guilford, a team that the Tigers defeating prior this season in an instant classic.
In the first meeting Jan. 5, Guilford tied the game with 33 seconds left in regulation, but junior forward Max Leveroni picked a perfect time to get his first career goal when he scored near the end of a five-minute power play a minute into overtime for the Tigers’ win. The overtime triumph would be the last win the Tigers tasted, and Hand couldn’t grasp the winning feeling back, as it fought to a 3-2 loss over the Indians in overtime on a power play goal following a bench minor penalty committed by Head Coach Ryan Hardy, who was debating an icing call with an official.
“I thought we dominated play in the overtime session, but just couldn't pop one and obviously it goes without saying, I thought the actions of the referee were horrendous,” said Hardy. “That said, I'm proud of my team's effort. I'm sorry I let them down with that penalty and it’s important that we give credit to Guilford, who carried their team to a win.”
Despite the loss, junior goalie Chase Briggs would earn 35 saves on 38 Guilford shots at him. On the other side, the Tigers would earn 21 shots for the contest.
As the puck dropped on round two behind the backdrop of two passionate student fan sections, Hand (5-4-2, 2-2) started out with a shot at freshman net minder Brandon Maio and the Guilford (4-3-2) net. With 9:20 left, Guilford had a 2-on-1 attack, but could not convert it into a tally. They followed it up with a slew of shots at Briggs, yet none of them would fall through again for the visitors. Briggs would face pressure of an Indians’ power play, yet he and the Tigers would kill the Guilford advantage. In the final five, both teams would exchange chances at the other’s zone, but it would all be for naught as it was a scoreless draw after one period.
In the second, Guilford would be the one to strike first with a shot at a goal, but sophomore forward Matt Horton was called for a penalty following the shot. With its first power play, Hand would find itself with a 5-on-3 following another penalty. The Tigers would take advantage and claw through with a goal at 12:33 by sophomore forward Ben Solin, assisted by Braumann. Hand would grab another goal 27 ticks later as senior forward Ryan Bell rang for another Tigers’ tally off a helper from Solin. With 4:49 left, Solin would be called for a penalty to give Guilford a second chance to capitalize on a man-advantage. Following scoreless power plays from both squads, Guilford would give Briggs big shots in the final two minutes, but he was able to turn them away and lead to a two-goal Hand lead after two.
As the final frame began, the Indians would again take the initiative and pressure Briggs early. Guilford would also get an early power play after an elbowing call at 11:30. Despite spending much of it in the Hand zone, Guilford came away with nothing to show for the 5-on-4. The Tigers would keep trying for insurance, but Maio and the Guilford defense kept denying the requests. Senior defenseman Will Lavin would be called for elbowing to set up another man-up Indians’ attack, but Horton would be put in the box on his own elbowing foul. Seconds later, Guilford climbed back in as senior defenseman Ryan Moore scored with 6:04 to play to make it a 2-1 contest. Freshman forward Sam LaFontaine was called for holding to set up another Indians’ advantage, but they could not find the equalizer. Guilford would gain another chance when senior forward Brendan Kelly was tacked for a penalty, yet squandered the chance with one minute remaining. With 21 ticks left and a faceoff in the Hand zone, Guilford brought the puck into the net for the tie thanks to Horton in traffic and sent the game to an extra session.
In overtime, both teams traded jabs at the chance for a winner, yet it was not to be in the early going. Midway through, Hand would bring the pressure with an extended stay in the Guilford zone, but to no avail. The Indians would do the same on multiple shots, including one that slid across the front of Briggs’ net. With 43 seconds left, Guilford earned a power play and Moore brought home the winner on a goal for the Indians’ win with 32 seconds to spare.
“I thought that we competed hard the entire game and I was happy with our effort. Obviously we had some success on the power play, which was nice,” added Hardy on Hand’s efforts. “It was disappointing to give up the tying goal with 12 seconds left in a fluky situation, but credit Matt Horton for getting it done. I thought the game was a real back-and-forth affair, with both teams controlling stretches of time.”