NORTH BRANFORD — It was the kind of game that might take years off the winning hockey coach’s life, but when Vic Vicenzi and No. 10 Watertown/Pomperaug have a guy like Ryan Fleming in net, it’s all good in the end.
Fleming held the fort in the second period and through stretches of the third, and Troy Harwell’s hat trick carried Watertown/Pomperaug to a 4-1 win over Branford on Wednesday night at Northford Ice Pavilion.
“When you have someone that’s so reliable back there, it’s not to the point where you know you can mess up, but you know you have some leeway,” Harwell said. “You can try some new things and see what works.”
Harwell scored twice in the second period, then scored his third into an empty net after Fleming stopped David Engstrom and Jack Manware in sequence a few seconds and an icing earlier.
“I feel very comfortable when I get into that groove,” said Fleming, who made 26 saves. “It’s second nature to me. The ice is kind of like my home. I grew up here. I get in that mindset as soon I wake up, where it’s just kind of no pressure for me.”
The Indians (8-1-2, 3-0-1 SCC/SWC Division II) have won six in a row. They’ve allowed 13 goals in 11 games with Fleming behind them.
“That helps. When he’s on, he’s on,” Vicenzi said. “When he’s seeing pucks, it’s tough to beat him.”
Branford (5-2-2, 2-1) had been unbeaten since an opening-night loss to Glastonbury.
“There was a stretch in the second period, we had them hemmed in for five or six minutes, and we couldn’t get it by Fleming,” Branford coach Jim DiNapoli said.
“They’re so strong defensively. I think we pressed a bit. I’m not disappointed with the effort. We haven’t been behind in a game in a long time, really since the Lyman Hall game (a 5-3 win Dec. 22). I think there’s a maturation process here. I think we can grow off this game.”
Harwell’s first goal came on the rush. Zach Smith sent a pass to Harwell on the right as they entered the zone, and Harwell used a defenseman as a screen to put a shot inside the left post 2:57 into the second period.
Branford took over the middle of the period, keeping the puck in the Indians’ end and drawing its first power play.
No save in particular stood out to him, “but I feel that whole sequence I kept my head on straight,” Fleming said.
But as the Hornets’ advantage ended, Harwell blocked a shot and pushed it ahead to give himself a breakaway and a goal with 4:36 left.
The teams traded goals on Watertown/Pomperaug’s two first-period power plays.
The Indians set up only briefly on the first. Branford sent them the other way, and a Watertown/Pomperaug player’s stumble let Max Bunton in alone to score 3:01 into the game.
The Indians capitalized on their second man advantage, though a turnover had nearly resulted in disaster again a few seconds earlier. James Moaddel threaded a pass from the right corner through a seam to Trevor Davis at the top of the left circle. Smith tipped in Davis’ shot with 4:14 left in the period.
WATERTOWN/POMPERAUG 4, BRANFORD 1
W’TOWN/POMP.1 2 1—4
BRANFORD1 0 0—1
Goals: WP—Troy Harwell 3, Zach Smith; B—Max Bunton. Assists: WP—Smith 2, James Moaddel 2, Trevor Davis. Goalies: WP—Ryan Fleming (26 saves); B—Jared Yakimoff (15). Shots: WP—19; B—27. Records: Watertown/Pomperaug 8-1-2, 3-0-1 SCC/SWC Div. II; Branford 5-2-2, 2-1.