NORTH BRANFORD — Flat in a conference playoff loss last week, the LHK boys hockey team needed to tweak some things. And facing an all-conference goalie like Masuk’s Tag Weiss to start the CIAC Division III tournament made playing a better game a little more imperative.
The tweaks paid off with three first-period goals and a 6-1 win Monday night at Northford Ice Pavilion in the first round of the tournament. Trojans senior Kyle Roberts earned his 200th career point in the win.
“He’s a special player. He’s got a high IQ. I’m just really proud of him,” LHK coach Rich Minnix said.
Roberts’ freshman brother, Jack, had two goals and two assists, and their linemate, Matt Pettit, scored twice.
“They come in waves, not just their top line with Roberts, Roberts and Pettit,” Masuk coach Andrew Sinibaldi said. “The second line is as good as the first. The third is as good as the second. It’s not easy. Tag made — it could’ve been 10-, 12-1. He made saves he’s been making all year. He’s unbelievable. We’re going to miss him.”
Pettit used a defenseman as a screen to open the scoring 2:56 in. The younger Roberts scored at 12:19, his brother getting an assist, and then Jack scored again late in the period on the power play.
Though Brendan Andros’ power-play goal got the Panthers a little closer in the second period, it was LHK’s night, forechecking hard, playing a physical game and holding Masuk to 13 shots.
The Trojans had been 2-4 in their previous six games, including a 6-2 loss to JBWA in the SCC/SWC Division III semifinals on Wednesday.
“We were focused on making sure we got two guys down low fast,” Kyle Roberts said. “We really wanted to start physical.”
The second-seeded Trojans (15-7) will face seventh-seeded New Milford (10-11) on Thursday in the quarterfinals at a site and time to be announced.
Masuk, the 15th seed, finishes 5-15-1 in Sinibaldi’s first season. Weiss made 28 saves.
“We had a short bench, 16 skaters, so we had to come in, every guy working hard,” Sinibaldi said. “The ups and downs were certainly there as a first-year coach, but having Brendan Andros back there on D as the rock, and Tag between the pipes, I couldn’t have been set up any better.”
Both Roberts brothers assisted on Pettit’s goal 63 seconds into the third period, getting Kyle his milestone point.
“It’s amazing. It hasn’t really kicked in yet, but it’s awesome, especially with my teammates,” Kyle Roberts said. “I think they all wanted me to score. It would’ve been nice if it was a goal. But Pettit was wide open and I knew he could finish.”
Aidan Weir tacked on his second goal of the night three minutes later.
Earlier on the same sheet of ice but the other side of the bracket, it didn’t take Hand long to take control of its first-round Division III playoff game against the NFA Redhawks co-op. It took the Tigers almost 13 minutes to take control on the scoreboard, though.
Once they did, two goals in 11 seconds opened the floodgates and put them well on their way to a 7-0 win.
“That’s actually what the boys were talking about, on the bench, in the locker room: Just get that first one, and once that first one goes in, we’ll start rolling,” Hand coach Brian Gonsalves said.
“That first one’s been tough, but once we get that first one, it’s come together.”
The top-seeded Tigers (17-4-1) advance to face eighth-seeded Newtown (9-11-1) in Thursday’s quarterfinals, also at a site and time to be announced.
The 16th-seeded Redhawks, based out of Norwich Free Academy, finish 4-16-1. They got 38 saves from senior goalie Spencer Flynn, who did all he could to keep it close.
After Hand killed two Redhawks power plays in the first period, Michael McKeon tipped home Dominic Montesi’s right-point shot to break the ice 12:59 into the game. He scored over Flynn’s left shoulder 11 seconds later.
“We’ve been working. The loss last week to Sheehan (Wednesday in the SCC/SWC semifinals) was tough,” McKeon said. “It kind of kicked us in the butt a little bit. We had to come out today and just work. We had a little bit of a slow start, but we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
Joey DeAngelis scored up the right wing 34 seconds into the second period to give the Tigers a three-goal lead.
And in a blink, it was 6-0: Ian Rice and Brendan Ryan scored 28 seconds apart to make it 5-0 by the 5:33 mark, and DeAngelis struck again a minute and a half later.
Eric Dillner needed just 10 saves to record the shutout. He made seven of them in the third period, but Hand’s Logan Massey scored the only goal.
The win was the Tigers’ first in a CIAC playoff game since their victory over Amity in the 2014 Division II final gave them their second championship.
“Four games in five days last week, as much as the boys wanted an SCC title, it was a nice break” going into the state tournament, Gonsalves said. “It was a chance to regroup, refresh, take a deep breath and say ‘what was the ultimate goal, anyway? Let’s go after it.’”
“We just worked on our forecheck, made some adjustments on our forecheck. Keep our feet moving. Some of those extended chances led to goals.” —LHK coach Rich Minnix
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HAND 7, NFA REDHAWKS 0
NFA REDHAWKS 0 0 0—0
HAND 2 4 1—7
Records: NFA Redhawks 4-16-1; Hand 17-4-1. Goals: H—Michael McKeon 2, Joey DeAngelis 2, Ian Rice, Brendan Ryan, Logan Massey. Assists: H—Tatum Fitzmaurice 2, Griffin Fitzmaurice 2, Dominic Montesi, Josh Ruotolo, James Barber, McKeon, Rice, Teddy Licari, Ryan. Goalies: NFA—Spencer Flynn (38 saves); H—Eric Dillner (10). Shots: NFA—10; H—45.
LHK 6, MASUK 1
MASUK 0 1 0—1
LHK 3 1 2—6
Records: Masuk 5-15-1; LHK 15-7. Goals: M—Brendan Andros; LHK—Jack Roberts 2, Matt Pettit 2, Aidan Weir 2. Assists: LHK—Kyle Roberts 2, Jack Roberts 2, Conner Satton, Zach Hines, Weir, Pettit, Michael O’Toole. Goalies: M—Tag Weiss (28 saves); LHK—Matt Smith (12). Shots: M—13; LHK—34.