It has been an up-and-down season for Hand. Fortunately for the Tigers, they are enjoying an “up” moment at the most important time of the year.
Hand has become the Cinderella of the Division II state tournament.
Entering this season, first-year Hand coach Ken Mitchell had high hopes. He had an explosive first line in Ben Solin, Dan Braumann and Mike Belliveau and one of Division II’s top goalies in Chase Briggs.
But injuries and a pair of tough stretches on the schedule led to a five-game losing streak after a 3-0 start, and later a three-game losing streak after they fought back over .500 at 7-6.
With almost two weeks remaining in the regular season, Mitchell said his team hadn’t been performing as well as he expected, “and that has to fall on me and my staff.”
Well, something clicked. The Tigers won three of their final four games of the regular season to finish 10-10 and drew the No. 13 seed in the D-II tournament. Hand faces off with No. 2 seed Amity in the state championship game tonight at Ingalls Rink at 7:30 p.m.
The Tigers beat No. 4 Newington/Berlin/Manchester 4-1 in the first round and then No. 5 North Haven 4-2 in the quarterfinals. But then Hand pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament with a 5-1 win over No. 1 East Catholic in the semifinals.
“The kids, coaches, team, we’re all peaking at the right time,” Mitchell said the East Catholic game on Monday. “The reason for our success now is our players have bought into our system of play. It also helps to have Chase Briggs playing goalie for us. He made three or four big saves against East Catholic.
“While we’ve been leaning on our first line, a big difference for us has been the development of our second line (Max Leveroni, Connor Bell and Luke Brown). They’ve been a big help in stretches.”
Solin is the team’s leading scorer with 37 goals and 27 assists, Braumann has 27 goals and 31 assists and Belliveau has five goals and 14 assists.
Briggs entered the tournament with a 2.80 goals-against average and has only allowed four goals in the three tournament games. The defense has improved as well led by Dan Healey, Jeff Rider and converted forward Andy Banasiak.
“We’ve had to pick it up the past couple of weeks,” Braumann said. “We tend to fall behind in games, but we need to come out strong against Amity. They’re a very good team.
“Getting here has been our goal all season. It feels great to be here, but now our focus is winning the championship.”
Who will win the Class LL boys soccer championship?
No. 2 Hall (18-1-1)
No 8 Glastonbury (15-3-2)
Total Response: 197 Votes