NORTHFORD >> Usually Branford is a slow starting hockey team.
Not this year.
The Hornets are off to the best start in five years under head coach Adolph Brink with a 7-1-1 record. They posted their seventh win of the season Wednesday afternoon with a 5-3 triumph over rival Hand at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
Branford is 2-0-1 in the SCC-SWC League with its only blemishes being a 3-2 loss and a 3-3 tie, both with North Haven. Despite its lefty record, the Hornets are sixth in the CIAC Division II hockey standings.
“We’ve traditionally been slow starters, but this junior and senior group saw it and didn’t want to put themselves in a tough position,” Brink said. “We’ve played tight games, but still certainly no one is going to bad for you when you’re 7-1-1.”
Hand, however, took an early lead in Wednesday’s contest when the high-scoring duo of Danny Braumann and Ben Solin connected for a goal. Solin rushed down the left side of the ice and fed Braumann with a pretty pass just outside the crease. Braumann flipped the puck past Branford goaltender A.J. Brink (15 saves) for the 1-0 lead just 2:37 into the contest.
But it would be the only lead the Tigers would have all afternoon.
“We stressed setting the tone, but kind of watched them and played within their game, not ours,” said Hand coach Ken Mitchell. “We were flat, but there’s no excuses. We got up a goal and thought it was enough, but we sat back instead of keeping going.”
Tyler Criscuolo tied things up just 4:27 later when he grabbed the puck off a fac-eoff near mid-ice and beat Hand goalie Chase Briggs (32 saves) on a one-on-one break.
Tyler Hackett put Branford ahead just over two minutes later when he grabbed a rebound in a scramble in the front of the net and popped it past Briggs for his first goal of the game.
The Hornets made it 3-1 early in the second period when they took advantage of a five-minute major penalty whistled on Hand’s Jeff Rider with seven seconds remaining in the first period. Aidan Deane had a tough angle from the right side, but was able to slide the puck past Briggs into the far side of the net just a minute into the second period.
It became 4-1 at the 7:04 mark when Hackett tipped in a Pascale shot that slowly trickled past Briggs.
Hand didn’t quit as Solin scored a power play goal with 2:28 remaining in the second period and Luke Brown added another just 1:28 later to close things to 4-3 when Branford’s defense faltered.
“We went up 4-1, you could see our demeanor change and we got lazy,” said Brink. “We took a lazy penalty and then Solin gets the puck and sizzles one past A.J. Then we’re lazy on the back check and they get another one. I told them after the second period that we had to get back to doing what we do well. I thought we played much smarter hockey in the third period.”
Hackett helped give the Hornets an insurance goal with just 2:17 remaining in the game moments after he got out of the penalty box for slashing. Hackett came down the right side of the ice and fed a wide open Tony Pascale on the left side for the goal.
“You have to keep battling,” said Hackett. “I was I got the penalty, but you have to stick with it and keep going.”
Hand fell to 2-2 in the SCC-SWC League and 4-6 overall.
“We keep getting these lessons in all these games, but we’re not learning,” said Mitchell. “But we keep battling. Hopefully, we can get the right things done.”
Branford 5, Hand 3
Hand 1 2 0 — 3
Branford 2 2 1 — 5
First period—HD: Danny Braumann (Andrew Rossi, Benjamin Solin) ; BR: Tyler Criscuolo ; Tyler Hackett (Tony Pascale, Cooper Bunton) ; Second period—BR: Aidan Deane ; Tyler Hackett (Pat Cunningham, Tony Pascale) ; HD: Benjamin Solin (Mike Belliveau, Luke Brown) ; Luke Brown (Chase Freiman) ; Third period—BR: Tony Pascale (Tyler Hackett).
Shots—HD: 18; BR: 37;
Saves—BR: A.J. Brink 15; HD: Chase Briggs 32;
Records—Branford 7-1-1; Hand 4-6.