NEW HAVEN — He was everywhere on the ice at Ingalls Rink on Monday night in the Division II boys hockey final, so it seemed only right that Robbie Lionetti took one more lap.
On his own after Branford’s 2-0 win over Glastonbury to secure the school’s second state championship, Lionetti skated to the far end of the ice, looking lost in thought.
“It’s what you dream about,” Lionetti said a few minutes later. “This is my last-ever game, last time putting on this Branford jersey. I had to take it all in.”
Lionetti, a senior, moved back to defense in the second period after fourth-seeded Branford (19-3-4), which usually runs only four defensemen to begin with, lost standout junior Chris Donadio to a knee injury 5:28 into the game.
A couple of other players picked up penalty-kill shifts on defense in the first period. But Lionetti, who has normally played forward this year, had been a defenseman the past couple of years and went back to the blue line on some penalty kills this year.
“It’s not too unnatural.” he said. “When Chris went down, I knew I had to step up. I had to have the team’s back, had to have his back. I had to go out and perform. It had to happen.”
Donadio reappeared at the bench on crutches with a knee brace in the final minutes. He joined the team to celebrate on the ice. And in the team picture, he’s the one leaning on goalie Jared Yakimoff, much like his team did all night; the sophomore made 20 saves.
“It was tough to lose Chris. He’s such a big part of our club. He’s had such a great playoff,” Branford coach Jim DiNapoli said.
“That was hard, but Robbie went back there. Robbie’s going to play Division I lacrosse (at Air Force), and he’s got a Division I heart. He showed that. A lot of kids showed their heart tonight.”
Spencer Engstrom, who’d scored the winning goal late in the SCC/SWC championship game earlier this month, got the goal to win the state championship as well.
He scored on the rush with 11:24 to go to break the deadlock, just at the edge of the left circle above the hashmarks, going high to the glove side on screened goalie Brendan O’Connor (20 saves and excellent himself).
“I just saw the top right (corner), and I knew he couldn’t see (the shot),” Engstrom said.
Engstrom chipped the puck to Jack Manware for an empty-netter to finish it off with 31.1 seconds left.
Sixth-seeded Glastonbury finished 14-9-2.
“When you scratch and claw to get here, and you show up and don’t bring your A-game, it’s always tough,” Tomahawks coach Ken Barse said.
“We really didn’t stick to the game plan. … I’ve got a lot of good, skilled players who all want to score the goal, who all want to win the game. There were too many great individual efforts and too few good team efforts. You’re not going to win too many games when you can’t complete two passes.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Spencer Engstrom played a little defense early, scored the first goal and set up the second.
Almost 11 of the 15 minutes in the first period was spent on a power play. A kneeing major was called on the play where Donadio was injured. Branford was called twice for having too many men on the ice.
“That was the most wild first period I’ve ever been a part of. It was absolutely crazy,” DiNapoli said. “The game stabilized. The physicality level was off the charts.”
MONDAY NIGHT MADNESS
The crowd was slim early but filled in; an official number wasn’t on the scoresheet, but it didn’t look like the full-house, 3,500, all-of-Wallingford crowd for Thursday’s Division III final.
“I’d have loved to be here on Saturday. It makes for a better atmosphere, plus it’s easier for people to get here, too,” Barse said.
“Tell your entire family and all your friends that, yeah, we’re playing Monday night at 7. It’s like a Monday-night wedding. Not everyone’s going.”
“As our old coach (Adolph) Brink told us, if the hockey gods have you in favor, nothing will go wrong. It looks like they had us in their hands tonight.” –Robbie Lionetti