WEST HAVEN — No one had to remind the Amity hockey team of what transpired one year ago in the state tournament.
Not wanting to be eliminated in the opening round again, the Spartans responded after being put to the test by Fairfield Warde / Ludlowe. Trailing early, Amity rode the scoring of Zach Shelnitz to a 4-3 opening-round victory over the Mustangs Tuesday night at the Edward L. Bennett Rink.
“We were out in the first round last year,” Shelnitz said after scoring Amity’s final two goals. “We did not want what happened last year to happen again. We used the motivation from last year. We know how bad that felt.”
The victory allows No. 2 Amity (15-8) to advance to the quarterfinals Friday night against No. 10 New Milford at a site and time to be determined. Fairfield concludes its season at 7-14.
With the game even at 2 in the second period, Shelnitz put the Spartans ahead for good with Amity’s third
power-play goal of the game with 3 minutes, 29 seconds left in the middle period.
After Adam Shea’s initial shot was stopped by Fairfield goaltender Mike Grace, Shelnitz poked away. On the second attempt by Shelnitz, the puck got by Grace for a 3-2 Amity advantage.
“He came up big tonight,” Amity interim coach Mike Richetelli said. “We are going to need that in the playoffs. We are going to need goals from everybody. We are going to need different people to step up.”
Shelnitz’s goal held up through the third period as both Grace and Amity goaltender Brian Mosher came up with big saves in the final period.
Grace denied shots by Anthony Uscilla, Shelnitz, John Crocker and John Pignataro to keep the Mustangs within striking distance, but Shelnitz was not done.
With Grace pulled for an extra attacker with 2 minutes to go in the game, the Spartans rushed out of their zone. Pignataro and Crocker helped set up a perfect deflection into an empty net by Shelnitz with 1:58 to go for a 4-2 advantage.
“Amity has played good all year,” Fairfield coach Mark Pettorini said. “When they do their thing, they are great. Our game plan was to get them off their game. We were all over them early.”
The goal proved to be a crucial one as the Mustangs needed just 40 seconds to get within a goal once again. Zach Weinstein’s blast from the point found the lower-right corner with 1:18 remaining to cut Amity’s lead to 4-3.
The final 78 seconds had to seem like an eternity for the Spartans as the Mustangs fired on Mosher.
Conor Scharlop was denied twice from the point by Mosher and Crocker blocked one final shot to seal the win.
“You can say all you want about this team, but they came out with nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Richetelli said of the Mustangs. “They played their butts off. We knew they were going to be tough.”
Fairfield sent a fear through the Spartans early, taking a 2-0 lead in the opening period. The Mustangs used solid puck movement before Scharlop’s shot from the point on the power play beat Mosher for a 1-0 lead with 4:06 left in the first.
The Mustangs quickly increased the lead to 2-0 when Trevor Demilt walked out of the corner and beat Mosher with 1:55 remaining in the opening period for a 2-0 lead.
All the hard work the Mustangs put forth in the opening period quickly faded in the final minute as Brett McNeil stepped up for the Spartans. Off an assist from Dalton Luciani, McNeil beat Grace with 55.6 seconds left to cut the deficit to 2-1.
“All of their goals were power-play goals,” Pettorini said. “If we play them five-on-five, we beat them 2-0. Our lack of discipline cost us.
“Their goal was huge. It gave them momentum. You want to go to the locker room up and on a positive note. When they scored, it seemed like it would take the wind out of our sails.”