WEST HAVEN — Milford hockey coach Sal Follo and his staff had a specific game plan ready for high-scoring Branford Friday night in the Division II quarterfinals. Zach White and the rest of the Indians executed it to perfection.
Playing a very physical game from start to finish and riding the play of goaltender John DePalma, 11th-seeded Milford upset No. 3 Branford 4-1 at the Edward L. Bennett Rink in West Haven.
With the victory, Milford advances to the CIAC Division II semifinals Monday night against Amity at Ingalls Rink at 5:30 p.m.
“He was tremendous,” Follo said of DePalma. “I talked it over with the coaching staff, and we decided to go with him. He played a stellar game.
“We played a good team game. Going into the game, we wanted to be physical. That was the game plan. We wanted to neutralize their top guns. They like to utilize center ice. The plan really worked. This is a complete team effort.”
DePalma and White were the stories of the game for the Indians with White setting the tone with three big hits in the opening minutes and DePalma was locked in from the start.
The senior goaltender made 13 saves in the opening period and added 12 more in the second. By the time the game had ended, DePalma was a big reason Milford advanced to the semifinals and finished with 38 saves.
“This is a big win for us,” DePalma said. “Even the rebounds were cleared right away by the defense. I have a lot of trust in the defense.”
DePalma was solid all night, but came up the biggest in the final 6 minutes of the game as Branford had cut the Milford lead to 3-1 on a Tyler Hackett goal with 8 minutes, 46 seconds remaining.
DePalma denied Jason Vitale in front with 6:32 left, stopped an end to end rush by Hackett with a blocker save 22 seconds later and turned aside Vitale again twice in less than a minute.
“When your offense is not going well in a game like this, you are in trouble,” Branford coach Adolph Brink said after his team closed the season at 18-5-1. “We look to Tyler Hackett and Tyler Criscuolo. They bottled them up pretty well. They did a good job.”
Milford (13-8-1) struck first in front of the frenzied crowd as White sent a perfect pass from behind the net to Brandon Argyros in front and the sophomore beat Branford goaltender A.J. Brink just 3:30 into the contest.
Brink came up big later in the period, denying Argyros with a stick save off a breakaway with 8:46 left in the opening period. White had another Milford breakaway but he hit the post with 1:20 left in the period.
DePalma kept Milford on top as he stopped Branford’s Anthony Pascale on a breakaway just 1:10 into the middle period. Less than 7 minutes later, Milford led 2-0 when Will Vitelli scored on the power play after fanning on his initial shot.
Branford couldn’t capitalize on its seven power-play opportunities, failing to score on each.
DePalma was one of the reasons why, along with the penalty killing unit, as he denied Vitale’s backhander in front with 5:30 left in the middle period and stopped Hackett with a glove save with 5:24 left in the period.
White and the Indians then pulled away.
White broke in on Brink and he made the initial save. With the puck sitting in the crease, Ben Lavallee knocked the puck into an open net for a 3-0 lead with 1:23 remaining in the middle period.
“Those goals were huge,” Follo said. “We played to the game plan.”
White’s assist on the goal was his 200th career point.
“It means a lot,” White said of the milestone. “It is big because there are a lot of assists in there.”
Jonathan DePascale clinched the win for Milford when he scored into an empty net with 1 second remaining.
“It was a great effort,” Follo said. “We knew we had to go every other line. I think our stamina was good at the end. I think we wore them down.”
White led the Indians with two assists, while DePascale and Vitelli each had a goal and an assist.
“This is amazing,” White said. “All the seniors have been dreaming of this. In our first year, we did not make the playoffs. Now, to get to Ingalls is great.”
Brink finished with 25 saves for Branford.
Milford 4, Branford 1
(at West Haven)
Milford 1 2 1 — 4
Branford 0 0 1 — 1
First period—MLF: Brandon Argyros (Will Vitelli, Zach White) 2:30; Second period—MLF: Will Vitelli (John DePascale) 6:58; Ben LaVallee (Zach White) 13:37; Third period—BR: Tyler Hackett 6:14; MLF: John DePascale (Andrew Gobany) 14:59.9;
Shots—MLF: 26; BR: 37;
Saves—BR: A.J. Brink 26; MLF: John DePalma 36;