WEST HAVEN >> When the Amity and North Haven boys hockey teams faced off in the teams’season opener, the Indians won by three goals and 11 goals overall were scored.
But teams usually evolve over the course of a regular season and North Haven coach Tom Roche figured he would be facing a much improved Spartans team on Thursday in the Southern Connecticut Conference-South-West Conference Division II boys hockey semifinals.
And Roche was right.
In a game that was close for two periods and tied heading into the third period, Brett McNeil scored a natural hat trick and goalie Brian Mosher had 27 saves to lead No. 3 Amity to a 3-1 win over No. 2 North Haven at Bennett Rink.
Amity will face No. 1 seed Branford in the championship game on Saturday at Bennett Rink at 2 p.m. Branford defeated No. 4 seed Cheshire 4-1 in the other semifinal.
“A lot has happened with our team since that first game,” Amity interim coach Mike Richetelli said. “(Forward) Adam Shea was just back from mono and Mosher was making his first start in goal. The turning point for us tonight was our improved third line playing hard and giving our top two lines a breather.
“That was a good game for Brett tonight, his second hat trick of the season. His second goal was a key goal and turned the game around. It gave us the momentum we needed.”
In the scoreless first period,the Indians outshot the Spartans 11-8 and both sides had solid chances to score.
Amity’s John Pignatro took a shot from the bottom of the right circle and North Haven goalie Andrew Graziano was able to get the tip of his stick on the puck for the save at 3:55. North Haven’s John Jensen had a breakaway down center ice and wristed a shot from about 10 feet in front of the net and Amity goalie Brian Mosher made the stick save at 9:50.
Both teams would end up with a goal in the second period.
McNeil scored a backhand goal in front of the left post to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead at 4:11 of the second period. North Haven responded with a power-play goal at 12:07 of the second period. Phil Gauven sent a rising slap shot from inside the left circle that flew into the lower right corner of the net for the score and a 1-1 tie.
In the third period, McNeil grabbed a loose puck at the left circle and wristed a shot inside the left post for a 2-1 lead at 12:33. He added an open net goal with 22 seconds left in the game.
“This was definitely one of my better games of the season,” McNeil said. “We’re a third period team and we were confident we could come away with the win. That second goal was key for us and we felt the momentum go our way at that point.”
Roche said the Spartans wanted the win more than the Indians.
“The penalties hurt us tonight,” Roche said. “Giving them two 5-on-3 opportunities, it’s hard to come back from that even though they didn’t score off them.”
In the second game, the Hornets scored the game’s first four goals and cruised to their semifinal win.
Tyler Hackett and Anthony Pascale scored twice and goalie A.J. Brink had 40 saves to lead Branford to its second win of the season over Cheshire. The Hornets defeated the Rams 5-3 in the regular season.
“These are all good teams in the semifinals, Cheshire’s a very good team and you can’t take a night off against anyone,” said Branford coach Adolph Brink, the goalie’s dad. “To beat these SCC-SWC teams you need to get a good jump on them and that’s what we did in the first period.
“Taking a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes was a great momentum shifter.”
Hackett scored at 3:15 and 8:18 of the first period for a 2-0 lead. Pascale added a goal at 13:20 of the first period and a power-play goal at 5:13 of the second period to make it 4-0.
Cheshire’s Chris Stevens got the Rams on the board with a power-play goal at 6:05 of the third period and cut the lead to 4-1.
“It was a little disheartening not to execute a little better tonight,” Cheshire coach Karl Sundquist said.
“That 2-0 lead took wind out of our sails and that’s what we wanted to avoid. This game was a carbon copy of the first game we played against them.”
Cheshire goalie Joey Solla had 39 saves.
Amity 3, North Haven 1
(at Bennett Rink)
Amity 0 1 2 — 3
North Haven 0 1 0 — 1
Second period—AM: Brett McNeil 4:11; NH: Phil Gauvin 12:07; Third period—AM: Brett McNeil 12:33; Brett McNeil (Adam Shea) 14:38;
Shots—AM: 36; NH: 28;
Saves—AM: Brian Mosher 27; NH: Andrew Graziano 33;
Records—North Haven 12-5-3; Amity 13-7
Branford 4, Cheshire 1
(at Bennett Rink)
Cheshire 0 0 1 — 1
Branford 3 1 0 — 4
First period—BR: Tyler Hackett (Aidan Deane) 3:15; Tyler Hackett (Zachary Withington, Jason Vitale) 8:18; Tony Pascale (Aidan Deane) 13:20; Second period—BR: Tony Pascale 5:13; Third period—CH: Chris Stevens (Luke Vendetto) 6:05;
Shots—CH: 41; BR: 43;
Saves—CH: Joe Solla 39; BR: A.J. Brink 40;
Records—Branford 16-4-1; Cheshire 10-10-1
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