— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) March 4, 2019
NORTHFORD — With potentially 15 minutes left in his high school career, Branford senior Robert Lionetti and his teammates had a bit of a heart-to-heart between the second and third periods. The talk did wonders.
Using a goal by Max Blunton 39 seconds into the third period, and two goals by Lionetti in the final 10 minutes, No. 4 Branford went on to defeat No. 13 Woodstock Academy 6-2 in the opening round of the Division II state tournament at the Northford Ice Pavilion Monday evening.
Branford, ranked 10th in the latest GameTimeCT/Register Top 10 poll, advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals, where it will play the winner of Tuesday’s South Windsor-North Branford contest.
“We came in after the second period and got together in the locker room,” Lionetti said after recording three goals and an assist. “We wanted to go out and work hard as a team. We got together and battled. We knew if we did that we would come out with the win.”
Lionetti and his team proved to be correct as Blunton needed just 39 seconds to put the wheels in motion for a Branford win when he scored off assists from Jack Manware (two assists) and Lionetti.
With the Hornets clicking on all cylinders in the third, it was just a matter of time before they opened up the contest. Zachary Jones did just that when he scored off a rebound of Max Manware’s point shot 4:44 into the third for a 4-2 lead.
— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) March 4, 2019
“I think we played with them and even ahead of them for some stretches,” Woodstock Academy coach Kevin Bisson said. “But, they got that early goal and took advantage of the momentum it gave them. We called a timeout, but they kept coming and capitalized.”
Lionetti then sealed the deal with a great individual effort 24 seconds later. Winning the battle for a loose puck, Lionetti beat Woodstock Academy goaltender Dylan Shea for a 5-2 advantage.
“I thought the opening goal of the third period was the key,” Branford coach Jim Dinapoli said. “The energy level picked up and then he (Lionetti) took over.”
After winning the Southern Connecticut Conference title two days earlier, Branford came out of the gates slowly to start the game. Woodstock Academy (12-6-2) took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Douglas Newton, before the Hornets picked up their play in the middle 15 minutes.
“I thought we came out flat coming off the championship game,” Dinapoli said. “We got better as the game went on. We never give up. This team does not except losing. We came out hard in the third period.”
The two teams put on a non-stop clinic in the second period with the game tied at two after two periods of play.
Branford (17-3-3) evened the game just 4:22 into the second when Lionetti beat Shea off assists from Jack Manware and Christopher Donadio.
The Centaurs never backed down and were close to taking the lead once again when Guerin Favreau took a pass from Newton and snapped a shot which was denied by Branford goaltender Greg Lucente.
Less than two minutes later, the Centaurs had the lead when Ethan Thorpe won the battle along the boards, found Liam McDermott at the point, and McDermott ripped a shot in for a power play goal with 7:52 to go in the middle period.
Branford kept battling and evened the contest at two when Spencer Engstrom redirected a pass by Blake Kustra past Shea 2:41 later.
Lucente kept the game even, denying a rocket by Devin Chadwick from the slot, and Newton in close, the latter with 39.2 seconds left in the middle period.
Woodstock Academy scored the only goal of the first period just 3:34 in when Newton beat Lucente with an unassisted goal.
The goal by Newton held up the remainder of the period as Shea came up big. Shea (22 saves) withstood the Branford pressure the remainder of the period and was not to be scored on as he denied Jack Manware in front with a stick save with 2:15 to go in the period, turned aside a backhander by Lionetti 23 seconds later, and used a stick save to stop a point shot by Jake Rivera with 1:20 to go in the first period.
Lucente finished with 15 saves for the Hornets.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Robert Lionetti — Branford senior scored three goals, including two in the third period, and added an assist in the first round win.