EAST HAVEN >> On the opening day of the high school boys hockey season, East Haven was on the bus heading to Shelton Twin Rinks for an away game with Trumbull. But due to bumper-to-bumper traffic, a typical 40-minute ride took nearly two hours.
The Easties arrived 10 minutes late for the game and had no time for their usual pregame warmup.
East Haven coach Lou Pane said the team “still had bus legs” during the first period and fell behind 3-0. By the second period, the Yellowjackets were warmed up and ready to play. Their first line responded with three unanswered goals to tie the game at 3. East Haven scored two more goals in the third period and came away with an impressive 5-4 win to kick off the season.
After just one game, Pane knew his top line — junior center Mike Falanga and senior wings Matt Longobardi and Tristan Goodwin — was going to be special. Goodwin and Falanga had two goals apiece and Longobardi tallied the other in the season opener.
Pane keeps track of the leading scorers throughout the state and said Falanga, Longobardi and Goodwin are currently the top scoring line in Connecticut. Falanga has 12 goals and 19 assists, Longobardi has 11 goals and 16 assists and Goodwin has 11 goals and 14 assists. Overall, the Easties have outscored opponents 51-19.
“I knew before the season we had almost everyone coming back, and I knew we were going to have the top scoring line in the state,” Pane said. “Those three guys have been playing hockey together going back to their youth hockey days.
“Everyone has been contributing and working hard on our team, including our goalies (Tom DeLucia, Frank Albano). But that first line has been carrying us.”
The Easties, currently ranked No. 4 in the Register Top 10 Poll, opened the season with eight straight wins, highlighted by victories over Greenwich and SCC-SWC rival West Haven, currently ranked fifth. It was the first time in Pane’s 28 seasons as coach that he beat Greenwich. The Easties finally suffered their first loss on Saturday, a 6-3 defeat at the hands of No. 1 Notre Dame-West Haven in an SCC-SWC matchup at Bennett Rink.
“We’re not surprised by our strong start to the season, or that we’re the top scoring line in the state,” Goodwin said. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point. We’ve known each other and played together so long that we just anticipate where everyone’s going to be on the ice.
“I think that Trumbull win was a huge springboard for us. Coming back from a three-goal deficit definitely pumped us up going forward,”
Longobardi said, “We each have a skill to bring to the table and we just click together when we’re on the ice. We have complete confidence in each other’s ability.”
Pane said the trio complements each other with their different styles and strengths.
“Goodwin is a pure sniper, a guy who has a strong shot and can score from anywhere,” Pane said. “Longobardi has the best speed out there and single-handedly creates so many scoring opportunities for us. Falanga is our finesse player, a guy so talented with the stick that he can do amazing things with the puck to slip it past defensemen, initiate a breakaway or sneak it past a goalie.”
Pane expects the Falanga/Longobardi/Goodwin line to become the third-highest scoring line in the history of the program. The top single-season scoring line played in the 1996-97 season — Dave Bachinski (30 goals, 53 assists), Bob Coyle (50 goals, 39 assists) and John Pellegrino (26 goals, 49 assists). The second-best line is from 2007-08 — Mike’s brother Paul Falanga (21 goals, 24 assists), Frank Butler (20 goals, 23 assists) and Anthony Verderame (25 goals, 32 assists).
Mike Falanga said despite expectations, there isn’t any pressure on his line to score.
“We understand the need to produce goals, but there really isn’t any pressure on us,” Falanga said. “This year we have more depth and experience. We have three lines that can score; it’s not just me, Matt and Tristan. If we have an off night we know the other lines can pick us up and score.”
After this season all three players plan to play hockey at a yet-to-be-determined prep school.
“A lot of prep schools are interested in those three guys,” Pane said. “That’s where they plan to go and continue their education and play hockey after this school year, including Falanga.
“Fortunately, we have them one last year and we have some lofty goals. We want to win the SCC-SWC Division I tournament championship and we want to get to Ingalls Rink to play in the Division I (state) semifinals and final.”