HARTFORD — While Branford won its Division II quarterfinal against South Windsor, it was still a hard-fought 3-1 hockey game Friday night at Trinity’s Koeppel Center. South Windsor blocked some shots in the first period, after all, but still came out down two goals.
“That’s that coach. I’m the other one,” South Windsor coach Neil Rodman said, pointing down the hall.
“They won this game because they worked a little bit harder and did the little things that don’t show up on stat sheets. They won faceoffs. They blocked a ton of shots.”
One blocked shot turned into Spencer Engstrom’s short-handed goal that put the Hornets up 2-0 and ultimately sent them to the semifinals.
“We’re still blocking shots. We were blocking shots versus Watertown (in the SCC/SWC Division II championship), and it worked,” Engstrom said. “We were still blocking shots tonight. I blocked the shot to get the breakaway. You block shots, good things happen.”
The fourth-seeded Hornets (17-3-4) advanced to face either top-seeded Watertown/Pomperaug (17-3-2) or ninth-seeded WMRP (16-6) in the semifinals, Tuesday night at Yale’s Ingalls Rink, at either 5:30 or 7:30 p.m.
“I’m excited. I’ve never been there before,” Engstrom said; the Hornets were last in the semifinals in 2015.
Branford, ranked 10th in the GameTimeCT.com poll, lost 4-1 to Watertown/Pomperaug in the regular season but beat the Indians 2-1 last weekend for the SCC/SWC title. The Hornets beat WMRP 4-0 in the regular season.
South Windsor, the fifth seed, finished 11-10-1. And even if Rodman wouldn’t say it, Branford coach Jim DiNapoli would: It was a battle.
“(The Bobcats) were relentless,” DiNapoli said.
They got one back on a Branford too-many-men penalty midway through the second, Gabe Feber punching home the rebound of a point shot.
“Those were the things we talked about, that we had to be good at, getting pucks to the net and finding rebounds, and that was the only one we got,” Rodman said. “We had three or four scoring chances the rest of the game? They kept us from getting back in it.”
Branford’s Jared Yakimoff had a couple of big stops among his 18 saves but didn’t have to make a ton of them. And Chris Donadio broke up a South Windsor two-on-one early in the third.
“We knew they were going to score. It wasn’t going to be a 2-0 game the whole time,” Engstrom said.
Donadio’s power-play goal with 5:51 left on a Bobcats too-many-men penalty finished it off.
The Hornets got an early lead when the puck caromed to Zach Jones, alone in front with an open net, 4:06 into the game. Engstrom’s short-hander, blocking a left-point shot and taking it in alone, made it 2-0 9:26 in.
“I think (the Hornets) are just committed to the process and were willing to sacrifice to do whatever it took to come out on top tonight,” DiNapoli said.
“They’re a special group .They’re committed to each other. They’re committed to win.”
Friday was a special day for Branford, DiNapoli noted: former assistant coach Mark Cunningham, who died in 2015, would’ve turned 57 on Friday.
It was also DiNapoli’s daughter’s birthday.
“I needed to come home as a happy guy,” the coach said.