WEST HAVEN >> Times change and CIAC Division I hockey continues to shrink, especially among public schools, but long-time rivals Hamden and West Haven remain.
And while neither may be as dominant as they once were this season, you can always count on a couple of special contests between the two.
Saturday afternoon, it was Hamden senior Robert McKiernan who was the hero, scoring his second goal of the day 21 seconds into overtime to give the Green Dragons a 3-2 win on the Fifth annual Veterans Appreciation Day at Bennett Rink.
Last season, both meetings between West Haven and Hamden went overtime with the first one ending in a draw and the Blue Devils getting the second one in Hamden.
“Honestly, it came down to whichever way the puck bounced,” Hamden first-year coach Todd Hall said. “That’s the way both teams were playing. Neither team really deserved to lose. Hamden-West Haven, it’s the oldest rivalry in high school hockey in Connecticut. You just try to share that tradition with these kids prior to the game. Maybe they get it, maybe they don’t, but this win should help us.”
The Dragons (2-4-1) had the better of the play in the first period, but could not beat Blue Devil goaltender Logan Cole until 5:55 into the second period when junior Jake Blackwell dug the puck out of the corner, beat a West Haven defender and slid it across to McKiernan to tap in.
West Haven coach Joe Morrell decided to use his time out soon after and his team almost immediately responded. Jeremy Borrelli poked home a rebound on the power play at the 7:41 mark, and Westie star Tyler Paine got himself free 56 seconds later, and the Blue Devils (2-6) had turned it around.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t come out harder in the first period. They beat us to everything,” Morrell said. “Last two games, we scored on the first shift and got off to a great start. We came back, but once you get to overtime, anything can happen and it did.”
Anthony Hernandez found a way to slip a close-range shot past Cole with 1:05 left in the second period, and neither team could find a way to score in the third, even though both teams have numerous chances. Hamden netminder Stephen Riccitelli matched Cole save for save through the end of regulation.
Just after the opening face-off of overtime, Blackwell ventured down the left wing and slid the puck to McKiernan. Cole made a tremendous stop on the first shot, but McKiernan poked him his own rebound for the winner.
“He (Blackwell) made a nice move and got me the puck on the first goal,” McKiernan said. “All week, we’ve been practicing to go hard to the net and it paid off twice today.”
The shots, which were very close throughout, finishing 33-30 in favor of the Dragons. The two teams meet again on Feb. 13 in Hamden, and it’s been eight years since either team has swept the season series.
As the last two public school SCC teams left in the state’s top division (there are only nine public schools overall), a brutal schedule awaits, but it was only six seasons ago that Hamden was winning back-to-back Division I titles, so Hall remains confident.
“I don’t like the losses, obviously. But we have a lot of inexperience on the team, a lot of holes to fill from last year,” Hall said. “I didn’t expect guys to jump right in and fill those spots, but we’re getting better, working hard in practice. I can’t ask for anything more, it will be interesting to see how we develop.”
Hamden 3, West Haven 2 (OT)
(at West Haven)
Hamden 0 2 0 1 — 3
West Haven 0 2 0 0 — 2
Second period—HA: Robert Mckiernan (Jake Blackwell) 5:55; WH: Jeremy Borelli (Alex Lynch) 7:41; Tyler Paine (EJ Pacapelli) 8:37; HA: Anthony Hernandez (Brendan Berube, Tyler Webb) 13:55; First overtime—HA: Robert Mckiernan (Jake Blackwell) 0:21;
Shots—HA: 33; WH: 30;
Saves—HA: Steve Richetelli 28; WH: Logan Cole 30;
Records—West Haven 2-6; Hamden 2-4-1