HAMDEN â€• A 39-save performance from Conard goaltender Graydon Selstad was not enough to stop the Newington Boys Ice Hockey Co-op from shooting its way to the Division III State Championship.
Newington sent 42 shots in Selstadâ€™s direction while playing 45 minutes of penalty-free hockey en route to a 3-1 win for the co-opâ€™s first state title since 2013. The Norâ€™easters dominated possession and outshot Conard by 25 over three periods despite the Chieftains scoring the first goal of the game.
After failing to score on a pair of power plays, Newington netted two goals in 20 seconds to take a permanent lead for the final period and a half. Junior Andrew Stribling scored both the game-winning and game-sealing goals for the Norâ€™easters as the school secured its first of a possible two state championships by the end of this weekend.
â€śIt was amazing that weâ€™ve spent all this time into hockey and it finally paid off,â€ť junior goaltender Jeremy Wagner said. â€śNone of us really expected to make it to the semifinals, nevermind the state finals, so it was absolutely electric to know that we won states.â€ť
Wagner finished with 16 saves as Conard spent far less time on offense than Newington and struggled to create many quality shots. He also benefited from never facing a power play in this game, courtesy of steady and mature play from his teammates in front of him.
â€śThat was amazing, to have zero penalties,â€ť Newington head coach David Harackiewicz said. â€śWe stressed that a lot and to have zero penalties in a game, and it being the state championship game, thatâ€™s kind of unheard of. Our guys did not retaliate, I think they played a strong, physical game and I think that was a big difference. We know they have a good power play and we didnâ€™t allow any. I think that was the difference in the game.â€ť
The Norâ€™easters found the back of the net for the first time mid-way through the second period when senior captain Tyler Leavitt scored on a rebound from the left side of the goal. Selstad was a brick wall up until that point, but Leavitt took advantage of Selstad being out of position from his previous save.
Stribling put Newington in front 20 seconds later with a shot near the goal off an assist from Leavitt. Firing an onslaught of shots on goal to that point, Leavitt said Selstad would have needed the performance of his life to keep Newington off the scoreboard.
â€śIf you put relentless pressure on a goalie, it doesnâ€™t matter how good he is, heâ€™s going to crack at some point,â€ť Leavitt said. â€śWe just kept peppering the goalie, got some rebounds and thatâ€™s how things went.â€ť
Despite not converting on any of them, Newington had three power-play opportunities over the second and third periods. Their two in the second came almost consecutively, as a Conard player exiting the penalty box led to a penalty for too many men on the ice, but still did not yield any goals.
The score nearly stayed 2-1 through the end of the third period, even as Newington continued controlling the puck and putting shots on goal. The Norâ€™easters persistence in their offensive zone prevented Conard from pulling Selstad for an extra skater when it wanted to and did not get him off the ice until the final minute.
Stribling secured the state championship for his team with nine seconds remaining, netting an empty-net goal from center ice to put the game out of reach for Conard.
â€śAll season long weâ€™ve been a third-period team,â€ť Harackiewicz said. â€śWeâ€™ve outscored teams by a lot in the third period so we werenâ€™t worried at all. We just kept working hard, forechecking and we knew eventually that something would happen, but there was no worry on the bench at all. There is a lot of resiliency with this team and it showed right there.â€ť
Following a scoreless first period, Conard scored 57 seconds into the second period when freshman Brady Narus found a rebound and finished his shot for the first goal of the day. This was Conardâ€™s first goal against Newington in three games this season after a pair of 2-0 shutouts in the regular season.
The Chieftains may have scored in the game that counted most, but the Norâ€™easters still managed to finish the game with a two-goal lead.
â€ś[This is] a special group of guys that worked hard all year,â€ť Leavitt said. â€śFor the ending to come like this is just a cherry on top.â€ť
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.