NEW HAVEN - Losing in the Division III state title game on Saturday is going to hurt for a while, but the experience gained by the Hall-Southington ice hockey team will be an advantage over the next few years.
The Warrior-Knights will be losing six seniors before next season, but they have a strong junior class that is in a good position to potentially take that final step next season.
“It’s a new experience,” Hall-Southington junior goalie Zach Monti said about playing in the championship game. “We know how it feels now. We know how it feels to lose in the championships. So now we want to come back next year and hopefully change it around.”
Monti was a key factor for the Warrior-Knights over the tournament’s last two games, standing on his head in both the semifinal and championship games and piling up 38 saves over the two contests.
In the title game, Monti helped keep Woodstock Academy to only three goals until midway through the third period.
“Monti played a great game [on Saturday] right up until he got victimized a couple of times,” Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon said. “Those were plays no goalie is going to stop. It was tied to the stake and there was nothing he was going to be able to do about it.”
Like Monti, a pair of Hall-Southington’s top offensive threats will be back next year with the chip of losing in the title game on their shoulders.
The line of Jeremy Fortin, Jacob Mohr and Miles Aronow accounted for all of the Warrior-Knights’ eight points in the championship game and Mohr and Aronow will be back in the blue and white next season.
Mohr was a game-changer for Hall-Southington on Saturday, scoring two goals and assisting on Fortin’s tally. The game was not completely smooth for him, but he showed promising resilience that, according to Cannon, has been a frequent occurrence throughout the season for the team.
“Jacob Mohr actually got sat down for a couple of shifts because he came out and was not ready to play,” Cannon said.
“It’s a funny thing that has gone on all year. Almost every forward that we sit down for a few shifts, because their head’s just not in the game, they come out and they score. And that’s exactly what he did.
“He had missed three or four shifts at that point. We had put Carpenter in [the game] in his place to go out and play. Carpenter did a good job.
“After the [first] period, after talking to [Mohr], we put him back in and the kid goes out there and scores a goal. We’ve had a number of them do that. We sit them down for a few and they come out and score. It’s amazing. It’s like we plan it that way.
“Apparently they’re getting the message. It gets their attention and they come out and focus and bear down and they end up scoring.”
Depth was a strength of the Hall-Southington team this year and there were many players who were not able to make the lineup on a consistent basis because of all the talent in the lineup.
Cannon hopes that logjam, combined with the trip to the title game, will help the team next year and for some years to come.
“Some of these young guys did not get an opportunity to dress or play for a lot of games, but they’ve been paying their dues in practice,” Cannon said. “We have gotten them in games where we could. So they’re going to come in that much more ready.
“It’s hard, hard, hard to be in the stands and watching this and not being a part of it and some of the games that lead up, but they know what our culture is. They know what we expect [and] they know what we’re trying to do. They see what’s working and what isn’t working.
“So they come in much more ready to be in a position of playing a regular shift next year. Certainly dressing, if not playing a regular shift. That’s our goal for them.
“They don’t understand it [yet]. They just think they’re being picked on, but that’s the bigger plan. They need that seasoning and we still managed to get a couple of kids in that don’t see a lot of time once the wheels had come off. We got them in for a couple of shifts, especially one senior, because he’s got no more shots left.”
The seniors are going to missed next season, without a doubt. But the juniors and underclassmen coming back - like Monti, Aronow and Mohr - now have the experience of this season’s run to the title game and the heartbreak of coming up just short that could serve them well next season.
Even shortly after Saturday’s loss, the Warrior-Knights were already thinking about addressing their unfinished business.
“We’re definitely excited for it,” Aronow said about next season. “We’re losing some key guys, which is frustrating, but I think we can make it back here. I think we can make it where we can actually pull through and win.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @K_baum30