NORTHFORD— There’s a reason why Branford is among the state’s high school hockey elite.
Lots of offense and great defense when necessary.
Branford dressed just 14 players Wednesday afternoon, but it didn’t matter much as the Hornets obliterated Westhill-Stamford, 8-2, to improve to 13-2-1. The Hornets are second in the CIAC Division II standings with 63 points, six behind East Catholic, which leads with 69.
“We’re happy to be 13-2-1,” Branford coach Adolph Brink said. “We’re trying to get home ice advantage fort the playoffs. We’re all chasing East Catholic points-wise.”
Branford played without star center Tyler Criscuolo, who suffered a broken left hand Feb. 8 in a 3-2 loss to Amity. Criscuolo is hoping to be cleared to play in the CIAC Division II tournament next month, but will most likely miss the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament.
“I feel like I have to pick it up for him since he’s out,” Branford center Tyler Hackett said. “We’re missing a big body and a solid all-around player.”
Hackett collected two goals and four assists on Wednesday.
“They let me roam around a little more than other teams do,” Hackett said. “I felt I was clicking on all cylinders today.”
Branford stormed out of the gate with four goals in a span of 11:12 of the first period and really was never threatened.
Tony Pascale got the Hornets goal-scoring parade started just 56 seconds into the contest when he zipped a wrist shot past Westhill freshman goalie Christian Compolattaro’s left shoulder into the top right corner of the net.
Just 5 minutes later, Cooper Bunton weaved in front of the crease and flipped a shot into the same spot past Compolattaro to make it 2-0.
Zach Withington and Hackett tacked on goals from the circle later in the period to make it 4-0 and Compolattaro was pulled in favor of senior Brad Smith in net.
“Our goaltending was off tonight,” Westhill coach John Santagata said. “To spot a team three goals in the first period and try to get back in it is tough.”
Westhill, which hardly had possession of the puck in the opening 15 minutes, finally got on the board with a shorthanded goal in the final 11 seconds of the period. Ryan Silk stole the puck at center ice, made a nice move at the blue line and beat Branford goalie A.J. Brink on a breakaway.
But Branford poured it on in the second period with Hackett being involved in all three goals. First, Hackett scored a power-play goal just 27 seconds into the period. He also got credit for assists on goals by Jason Vitale and Withington less than 2 minutes apart in the middle of the period to make it 7-1.
“We didn’t move the puck well defensively,” Santagata said. “We were just running around and weren’t physical. If you play like that, they’ll pop them in.”
Matthew Abt pulled the Vikings to within 7-2 with 6:50 to play before Branford’s Tyler Martin closed out the scoring with his first career varsity goal.
Branford outshot Westhill, 35-17.
Brink had 11 saves and Ryan Kallert, who played the third period in net, added four saves. Compolattaro had just one save for Westhill, while Smith had 26 saves.