WEST HAVEN — Resilient. If any one word could describe the Amity hockey team, resilient is the perfect fit.
Showing that hard work and grit that brought them a No. 2 seed in the upcoming Division II state tournament, the Spartans nearly pulled off another thrilling comeback victory against Branford Saturday afternoon.
When all was said and done, it was not to be.
Behind a goal and two assists from Tyler Hackett, top-seeded Branford defeated No. 3 Amity 4-3 in the SCC-SWC Division II championship game at the Edward L. Bennett Rink.
“This team never stops,” interim coach Michael Richetelli said. “This team is resilient. We have done it so many times throughout the year. We thought we had them right where we wanted them.”
Richetelli was referring to the third period in which Amity entered trailing 3-1. That third period magic that has come through all season seemed to be with the Spartans again as Kevin Ryan scored the second of his three goals 3 minutes, 10 seconds in to cut the Branford lead to one goal.
“The whole time we thought we were going to come back,” Ryan said after his team fell to 14-8. “It just did not go our way.”
While the third period magic has been a constant for this year’s Amity team, so has the goaltending of Brian Mosher.
The senior was up to the challenge again in the third period, making 10 saves, including a breakaway stop on a pad save against Cooper Bunton immediately into the final period.
Mosher was not done in that final period, making another great stop on a breakaway, this time robbing Tyler Criscuolo, who made his return from injury, with less than 6 minutes left and Amity trailing by two goals.
“He did a great job today,” Richetelli said of Mosher. “He stopped a breakaway from Tyler Criscuolo. He stopped two-on-ones. He stopped Tyler Hackett. Those are stops you can put on your resume. He did a great job.
“We let him down. We made a couple of mistakes where we left him alone.”
As Richetelli spoke of Mosher’s brilliance, finishing with 31 saves, he also spoke of the team’s never quit attitude.
Richetelli’s words rang true, especially when talking about Ryan. The junior, taking the spot on a line of Adam Shea and Brett McNeil due to an injury to Keating Seymour, responded in fine fashion, especially in the third period.
After Branford took a 4-2 lead on a goal by Jason Vitale with 6:11 left, Ryan single-handedly tried to win the game for the Spartans. With assists to Shea and McNeil, Ryan’s backhander beat Branford goaltender A.J. Brink with 5:13 to go to keep Amity’s hopes alive.
“He has stepped up with Keating Seymour out,” Richetelli said of Ryan. “He has filled in nicely. He knows to get shots on net. We wanted to get our shots.”
Ryan and his teammates did exactly that. The Spartans poured 13 shots on Brink in the final period and swarmed the Hornets’ net in the final 4 minutes, but Brink was up to the challenge.
Amity’s finest opportunity came with less than 3 minutes to go. Dalton Luciani fired a shot off the glass, finding a rushing Shea.
Shea sent a quick cross-ice pass to McNeil, who had an angle on the defense and seemed primed to even the game.
The third period magic was not to be as Brink forced McNeil wide and deflected the puck, ending Amity’s last prime scoring chance.
While the Spartans did not take home the league title, they are in a good position to reach their goal of a state title.
“We want to get that ring,” Ryan said.
Second-seeded Amity opens the state tournament Tuesday night by hosting No. 15 Fairfield Warde / Ludlowe at 6 p.m. A win would set up a quarterfinal match against the winner of Rockville-BCL / New Milford.
If the Spartans are to attain their goal of a state title, plenty needs to happen over the next two weeks. Among the things that need to remain the same are the team’s hard work and resiliency.