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North Branford ice hockey picked up its first SCC-SWC Division II victory on Feb. 12 at home with an 8-4 win over Guilford to improve to 6-8. With a 4-4 tie after two periods, the Thunderbirds stormed past the Indians with four unanswered third period goals, including the game-winner by junior Alec Martone 1:15 into the frame, to catapult North Branford to a crucial victory.
"The last few games, especially versus good teams like North Haven and Branford, guys got a little down on themselves," said Martone, whose team had lost seven of its last eight. "Yet in practice, guys started to work harder, started to click, move the puck, and bring heart, and that's truly what helped us get the win tonight."
Martone also tacked on three points in the assist department while freshman netminder Will McEwen stopped 28 of Guilford's 32 shots. Sophomore Tanner Opie added two scores and an assist, plus seniors Brendan Appi and Nick Johnson each finished with a goal and an assist apiece.
"We needed this one tonight. We've been losing these past four or five game so this was a big step for us," said Opie. "We had the will to win tonight. After the second, we knew we had to step up and take charge to get the win so we just came out and put it away."
The Thunderbirds (1-6 in SCC-SWC DII) dominated control of the puck for the contest's opening minutes before Opie got them on the board at the 10:40 juncture of the first. Following Guilford (3-10; 1-5) being called for a cross check 40 ticks later, Martone connected with junior Jordan Glenn for the power play score and 2-0 edge with 8:38 remaining.
"Our game plan was to get the puck in and take some shots in traffic in front and I think we did that fairly well tonight," said Head Coach Ralph Shaw. "We had some inconsistent play and have been up and down, but we were better tonight than what we've been, so I'm happy with that."
The Indians did respond, though, to the early hole by netting two man-advantage tallies to even the game at intermission. First, sophomore Stephen Thibault found the net thanks to dishes from juniors Jack Petrick and Ryan Brand at 5:39 prior to sophomore Evan Powell grabbing the equalizer with 42 seconds left.
"We had some defensive lapses tonight and our special teams wasn't on for us so those are some things to work on in practice," said Shaw. "We had little mistakes on our special teams; there was some lack of communication out there. Still, our forecheck on the penalty kill was good, but we have to polish our power play a little bit."
Guilford then carried its momentum into the second when it went ahead 3-2 on a goal by sophomore Chris Cafiero from Thibault 1:32 into the frame. North Branford (25 shots on goal) responded just over three minutes later with Opie passing to senior Jared Neubig and then took the lead back on a Johnson goal from Martone with 8:23 to play. The Indians continued their prowess on special teams to again knot the score at 4 when Powell notched his second with 43 seconds left for a shorthanded goal.
Much like Guilford did for the second, the T-Birds wasted little time taking the command to open the third with Appi feeding the puck to Martone for a goal at 13:45. The home squad then added insurance on another Opie lamp lighter 2:55 later to go up 6-4. Appi and sophomore Dom Raccio then put up two more for their squad in the evening's final 5:09 to secure the Thunderbirds' win.
"Everybody wants to qualify for states and this was a big game for both us and Guilford," said Shaw. "We need the wins here so we are definitely happy to get one here tonight."