The players and coaches on the Newington co-op boys ice hockey team might not agree on the biggest key to their deep run in the Division III State Tournament, which is set to culminate Thursday against ninth-seeded Conard at the People’s United Center in Hamden.
For head coach David Harackiewicz, he believes losing to Enfield-East Granby-Stafford in the semifinals set off alarms in his players’ heads that they needed to play better. The players, however, might be more partial to the hair hanging out of their helmets from the freshly-cut mullets they are all sporting for the duration of their playoff run.
Regardless of what fueled the Nor’easters to their first state championship game since 2013, they are now one win away from their third state title in co-op history and are facing a team they already defeated twice without allowing a goal. Newington picked up a pair of 2-0 victories over Conard in January en route to their 17-3 regular-season record and No. 2-seed in the state tournament.
“[Conard is] a very tough team to play against,” Harackiewicz said. “They have outstanding goaltending, they’re very well coached, it’s hard to score against them and they don’t let up a lot of goals.”
Newington is coming off of a 5-1 win over Joel Barlow-Weston-Abbott Tech on Monday night in the semifinals, where a strong second-period propelled the Nor’easters ahead and into the final game of the year. The assertive win over the tournament’s third-seeded team had the players so excited they were already getting focused for round three against Conard.
“We were watching film before the bus pulled back into the Newington rink,” senior captain Braeden Humphrey said. “We are preparing, going through all the steps and making sure we are ready to bring our A-game for this.”
After suffering three losses across the regular season, the Nor’easters postseason opened with a stunning loss to the Enfield co-op, a team they beat twice in the regular season, in the semifinals of the Central Connecticut Conference Tournament. The team failed to bring a top effort that day and learned the perils of how that can end a postseason run before it truly gets started.
“We lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament to Enfield and got totally outplayed,” Harackiewicz said. “That was the wakeup call that propelled us to play better as the state tournament started and to build on that.”
Harackiewicz wants to see his players excel on the special teams, the power play and penalty kill, during this game and believes their performance with players in the penalty box could decide the game. He said the other key is hustle for every puck and the players learned the value of that in the semifinal win over JBWA.
“It comes down to which team is going to work harder,” senior captain Tyler Leavitt said. “In our semifinal matchup, I think both teams came out equally hard and we just needed to put it into a new gear. In the second period, we stepped on the gas and battled for every puck.”
The season is over no matter Thursday’s result, but the outcome of that game could be the deciding factor on the lifespan of some of the players’ mullets. While every player’s mother would probably like their sons to have different haircuts, a state championship could keep some mullets alive for a few extra days.
“My freshman year when we all made it to [the state semifinals] we all bleached our hair, so this year when we knew we were going to have a deep run in the playoffs it was a toss-up between bleached hair and mullets. I actually didn’t get a say in this, but mullets were decided and we all have mullets,” Leavitt said.
A win Thursday would also ensure the Newington players will be growing mullets as a good luck charm for many seasons to come.
“I supported mullets from the beginning,” Humphrey said. “It’s not every day that you get to grow one out for a purpose and it’s helped us win so far, so I don’t see how we can abandon it now.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.