HAMDEN - With less than a minute gone in the second period of the Division III State Championship Game, the Newington co-op went from outshooting Conard in a scoreless game to trailing 1-0 and losing momentum.
The Nor’easters continued to fire shots on goal, but failed to sneak one past Conard netminder Graydon Selstad. Even after back-to-back power plays later in the period, which created many quality scoring chances, Newington had nothing to show for controlling the puck most of the game.
Knowing Selstad could not hold strong forever, the shots continued to come his way and he finally broke around the mid-way point of the middle period. Just as the power plays came side by side, the Nor’easters netted two goals in 20 seconds to flip the complexion of the game and shoot their way to the third state championship in program history.
“I felt like they had the edge after the first period and when we came out in the second and put two quick goals on them I think the momentum shifted,” senior forward Tyler Leavitt said. “Then we just pressed them in their zone and it was hard for them to come out.”
Selstad finished with 39 saves and saved the first 23 shots to come his way, but a brief lapse after the consistent pressure from Newington had him switch from playing with a lead to facing a deficit before he knew it. The Nor’easters never lost hope before they scored, knowing a legendary performance between the pipes would be necessary to keep them off the scoreboard.
“When you throw 37 shots on goal, unless the goaltender is just outstanding, we were pretty confident we were going to score,” Newington head coach David Harckiewicz said. “We outshot them the last two times we played them, and we scored two goals [in those games], so in the back of our mind we knew we could get two goals.”
An all-Central Connecticut Conference final, Newington picked up its third win of the season over Conard on Thursday night after a pair of 2-0 wins in the regular season. Taking the lead initial lead with their first goal against Newington this season, Conard felt confident despite giving its opponent so many opportunities to even the score.
The Chieftains’ energy grew from there, as they survived four consecutive minutes with a player in the penalty box and still led 1-0. With Conard feeling its most comfortable, the Nor’easters, finally found an opening and Leavitt made the score 1-1 to end his team’s scoring drought after nearly 25 shots.
“We outshot them by a lot, and we knew we were getting opportunities,” Harackiewicz said. “The reason that we weren’t too upset that we didn't score the power play goals was because we knew we could really forecheck on their defensemen. That was one of the goals going in and I think [Conard’s defensemen] were really struggling below the goal line.”
That spurt in the middle of the game proved to be all Newington needed, as it kept Conard off the board and turned the 2-1 lead into a 3-1 lead with an empty-net goal late in the game. The Nor’easters secured their state-championship banner with an onslaught of shots and a penalty-free performance that balanced out coming up empty on both power plays.
“We had some penalty issues a lot in the year, some major issues,” Leavitt said. “So to come out here and have no penalties was really a good thing because [there was] no shorthanded time. We played five-on-five hockey for the majority of it.”
The win avenged a pair of disappointments the co-op experienced in recent years. Newington’s last state tournament run in 2020 ended in first round when it was upset by the Houstatonic-Northwestern-Wamogo-Torrington co-op in the first round. The Nor’easters were also eliminated from their conference tournament in the first round this year, and their performance in that game served as motivation to step up in the state tournament and finish as champions.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, it’s absolutely electric,” junior goaltender Jeremy Wagner said. “To start my first year and have an amazing season, and then win states was an experience.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.