NORTHFORD — For the second straight year, a 13th- seeded team is headed to Ingalls Rink for the Division II hockey semifinals.
Last year, it was Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe that reached Yale University’s rink, and the Mustangs went on to win the CIAC Division II crown. This time around, it’s Hand that has taken lucky No. 13 to Ingalls as the Tigers downed fifth-seeded North Haven, 4-2, Friday night at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
Hand (12-10), which last played in the semifinals in 2006, will meet top-seeded East Catholic in Monday’s semifinals at Yale’s Ingalls Rink. East Catholic downed No. 8 Cheshire, 4-1, in the other quarterfinal in the top half of the bracket.
“A 13th seed won it last year,” said Hand’s Ben Solin, who scored two goals. “I guess we’re the dark horse this year.”
Even more so considering the Tigers lost five straight early in the season and were 3-6 at one point.
“We like being the underdog,” Hand coach Ken Mitchell said. “But it doesn’t matter how. It just matters when you get hot. It’s a long way from the middle of January when we were in the middle of that five-game losing streak.”
After a scoreless first two periods in which both Hand’s Chase Briggs and North Haven’s Andrew Graziano were spectacular in goal, the third was a wild one.
North Haven (13-7-3) finally broke the ice just 1:07 into the period when Mike Hribko trickled one past Briggs off an assist from John Jensen.
“They are making me gray,” Mitchell said. “I think we get a better jump in our step one goal down.”
But that 1-0 North Haven lead lasted just 1:21 before Solin got hot. He took a pass from Danny Braumann after an Indians’ turnover and skated down the left side before flipping a shot past Graziano from the left circle.
Just 1:27 later, another North Haven turnover in its own end of the ice led to the same Tigers’ duo combining to give Hand the lead for good. This time, Braumann fed Solin at the blue line and the junior center ended up with a breakaway goal.
A third turnover 2 minutes later gave the Tigers some insurance as Braumann worked hard around the net, collecting his rebound and sneaking it past Graziano to make it 3-1.
“We concentrated and focused on turnovers in practice and they killed us,” North Haven coach Tom Roche said. “Most of our losses are due to turnovers.”
North Haven was able to close it to 3-2 when Cameron Owens deflected a shot past Briggs from the slot with 6:53 to play.
Hand’s Mike Belliveau added an empty netter with 31.2 seconds remaining.
“You never give up in the state tournament,” Briggs said. “Our defense played great.”
With the season finished, Roche said his Indians had a good year.
“We finished fifth in the Division II and second in the SCC-SWC in the regular season after struggling last year,” Roche said. “The boys should be proud.”
Hand 4, North Haven 2
(at North Branford)
Hand 0 0 4 — 4
North Haven 0 0 2 — 2
Third period—NH: Mike Hribko (John Jensen) 1:07; HD: Benjamin Solin (Danny Braumann) 2:28; Benjamin Solin (Danny Braumann) 3:55; Danny Braumann 5:25; NH: Cameron Owens (Vin Fasulo) 8:07; HD: Mike Belliveau 14:29;
Shots—HD: 35; NH: 31;
Saves—NH: Andrew Graziano 29; HD: Chase Briggs 31;
Records—North Haven 13-7-3; Hand 12-10