NORTHFORD — It’s been all about defense for defending Division II champion Branford.
The Hornets, ranked ninth in the GametimeCT.com state hockey poll, posted their second shutout of the season Wednesday afternoon, blanking Southern Connecticut Conference rival Cheshire, 3-0, at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
“The defense played really well,” Branford coach Jim DiNapoli said. “We kept everything to the outside except for one deflection in the first period that was off the post by six inches or a foot.”
It was also the second shutout for junior goaltender Jared Yakimoff, who held Trumbull scoreless back on Dec. 23, also in a 3-0 Branford victory. Through seven games, in which the Hornets are 6-1, they have allowed the opposition an average of two goals a game.
“He’s seeing the puck well and making those first saves,” DiNapoli said. “Jared was able to see everything very well. It’s a credit to him and the defensemen. The combination of the two is going well.”
Wednesday afternoon, the Rams never really mounted a consistent threat as they were unable to put a lot of pressure on Yakimoff, putting just 14 shots on goal.
“We came out strong and we were able to sneak a few past (Cheshire goalie) Nick Maringola,” Yakimoff said. “And I wasn’t pressured very much, so everything was good.”
After a scoreless first period, Branford finally broke the deadlock with 6:16 to play in the second period when Spencer Engstrom got the puck to Max Manware, who put a shot past Maringola to make it 1-0.
The Hornets had a chance late in the period to tack on another goal when they were shorthanded, but Maringola stopped Jack Manware from point blank range.
“We knew Branford is a very different team when they play ahead or behind in the game,” Cheshire coach Anthony Giusto said. “Once they got their first goal, it gave them confidence and our guys got deflated a little bit. They are the defending Division II champions for a reason.”
Branford, which took 44 shots, made it 2-0 just 2:30 into the third period when Engstrom raced down the right side of the ice and put the puck over the shoulder of Maringola.
“He (Engstrom) has been working hard and has had a good start to his season,” DiNapoli said. “We’re bouncing him around a little. He’s playing wing, but I like him more up the middle.”
The Hornets added an insurance goal with 2:20 to play in the game when Zach Jones rifled a shot into the net from just inside the blue line.
It was the second straight win for the Hornets since they suffered their only loss to the Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug co-op, 4-2, on Dec. 30. They knocked off West Haven, 4-2, last Saturday.
“This shutout was a game changer in our season,” Yakimoff said. “Since we lost to Lyman Hall, we’ve turned things around a little bit.”
Cheshire (4-3) lost for the third time in four outings.
“It’s been lack of goal scoring,” Giusto said “We’re in a slump where you feel you’re never going to score another goal. We’re also giving up a lot of shots, but luckily we have Nick Maringola back there who keeps us in every game.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Branford goaltender Jared Yakimoff recorded his second shutout of the season with 14 saves.
We’re one of many favorites in Division II. There’s a lot of parity. It’s the same as last year with a lot of teams that can win it. Everyone is just a little more cognizant of us and we have to come ready to play every night and be focused.” — Branford coach Jim DiNapoli on being the Division II defending champions