WEST HAVEN >> Branford goes into every game hoping to get a quick lead on opponents so it can dictate the style of play. Amity’s forte this season has been its strong, dominating play in the third period.
Both styles were on display in the inaugural Southern Connecticut Conference/South-West Conference Division II championship game on Saturday, but the Hornets would ultimately outlast the Spartans.
Jason Vitale scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, Tyler Hackett, the tournament MVP, had a goal and two assists and goalie A.J. Brink had 32 saves to lead No. 1 Branford to a 4-3 win at Bennett Rink.
Vitale scored at 8:49 of the third period to push the Hornets’ lead to 4-2.
“Getting a 2-0 lead and playing ahead allows you to dictate things in a game,” Branford coach Adolph Brink said. “But Amity is really good and I knew in that third period there would be a surge by them. A.J. made some big saves for us in the third period, Jason scored a big goal for us and Tyler showed why he’s a premier player in the state.
“All the teams in our SCC-SWC league are so good and talented. We were very fortunate to come away with this win and the championship.”
In the first period Amity outshot Branford 12-9, but it was the Hornets who finished a pair of shots to take a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
The Hornets scored their first goal with Amity’s Zachary DeCola serving a tripping penalty. Hackett wristed a shot near the left post to give Branford a 1-0 lead at 5:08. Tyler Criscuolo, returning from a hand injury, added to the lead and scored with 24 seconds to go in the period.
Branford had the most chances in the second period and outshot Amity 15-10, but the teams would end up trading goals.
Amity’s Kevin Ryan, who ended up with a hat trick, scored at 10:16 of the second period to cut Branford’s lead to 2-1. But Anthony Pascale answered for the Hornets with a goal at 12:24 for a 3-1 lead heading into the third.
The Spartans started off the final period strong as usual when Ryan cut Branford’s lead to 3-2 at 3:10. But Vitale found himself in the right spot to put the Hornets out of reach.
“I really didn’t know I scored right away,” Vitale said. “I was in front of the net and the puck bounced off Hackett’s stick and came right to me. When I hit the puck, I aimed high at the net and I didn’t even know if it was on net or wide. It was a good feeling when I saw I scored.”
But the Spartans didnt’ quit.
Ryan scored his third goal at 9:47 through a scramble in front of the net to cut the lead to 4-3.
Amity had six quality shots the rest of the way but Brink made the saves, including a pair on breakaways by Brett McNeil. The Spartans pulled goalie Brian Mosher with about a minute left in the game, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
“We made a couple of mistakes and missed some opportunities,” Amity interim coach Mike Richetelli said.
“You had two evenly matched teams, but in the end we couldn’t chip in that one goal to tie. A.J. Brink made the big saves for them.”
Amity defeated Branford 3-2 in the regular season at Bennett Rink, which serves as the Spartans’ home ice. Both teams could potentially meet again in the semifinals of the Division II state tournament, which begins Tuesday.
“The difference this time is we came out hard in the first period,” Hackett said. “We shut them down and didn’t let their top guy (Adam) Shea get loose.”
Mosher ended up with 31 saves.
SCC/SWC Division II final
BRANFORD 4, AMITY 3
AMITY 0 1 2 — 3
BRANFORD 2 1 1 — 4
First period—BR: Tyler Hackett 5:08; Tyler Criscuolo (Tyler Hackett) 14:36; Second period—AM: Kevin Ryan (Dalton Luciani, Brett McNeil) 10:16; BR: Tony Pascale (Jason Vitale, Cooper Bunton) 12:24; Third period—AM: Kevin Ryan (Dalton Luciani, Brett McNeil) 3:10; BR: Jason Vitale (Tyler Hackett) 8:49; AM: Kevin Ryan (Brett McNeil, Adam Shea) 9:47;
Shots—AM: 35; BR: 35;
Saves—AM: Brian Mosher 31; BR: A.J. Brink 32;
Records—Branford 17-4-1; Amity 14-8
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